I was applying to audition for this ballet company, and the form asked if I had a history of mental issues (i.e., eating disorders, anxiety, depression) and to give a detailed description of them and steps taken for treatment. Is this something that companies normally take into account during auditions? Moreover, are they allowed to ask this? I felt so strongly about not wanting to give that information that I decided not to apply. —Melanie
You're right to feel uneasy, and smart for passing over this company. Asking a potential employee about their health history is illegal. While it might seem logical for directors to want to know if a dancer they're interested in has struggled with eating disorders or other mental health issues, they aren't allowed to discriminate during the hiring process.
According to information on the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's website, the Americans with Disabilities Act "prohibits employers from asking questions that are likely to reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer." That includes questions about your mental health or other medical conditions on an audition application or during an interview. The fact that this company disregards the ADA means that they either aren't up on employment law or they assume young, eager dancers won't be.
Directors are legally allowed to condition a job offer on the applicant answering health history questions (or even request a medical examination) once they extend a contract and before employment begins—but only if the same applies to all other newly hired dancers. Even then, they can't withdraw an offer without evidence that you're unable to perform your job or that you pose a direct threat to yourself or others.
If you've previously struggled with depression, an eating disorder or other mental health conditions, it does not mean you're unemployable "damaged goods."
Have a question? Send it to Pointe editor in chief and former dancer Amy Brandt at firstname.lastname@example.org.