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FAQ: Should I Disclose My Disability?

Published onMay 06, 2024
FAQ: Should I Disclose My Disability?
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The Challenge


Deciding whether to disclose your disability in the workplace setting requires careful thought. Not disclosing your disability could prevent you from receiving needed accommodations, but disclosing may subject you to discrimination or differential treatment in the workplace. This section reviews factors to consider as you plan your potential disclosure of disability.


Considerations To Inform Your Decision


There is no legal requirement to disclose your disability, and potential employers are legally prohibited from asking invasive questions that are unrelated to your expected job tasks. Your decision regarding whether to disclose in a workplace setting should be informed by the following considerations:

  • Selecting Employers: Inclusive employers are more likely to accommodate requests of employees with disabilities, and to treat them as equals in the workplace. You can identify inclusive employers by visiting their websites, and checking for an accessibility statement and website accessibility features. Inclusive employers may also have an employee resource group (ERG) focused on disabilities, and may report partnerships with disability-advocate organizations.

  • Selecting Jobs to Apply For: In the U.S., under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), job candidates must be able to complete the “essential job functions”, with or without reasonable accommodations being made by the employer. Carefully consider whether you are qualified for the considered position, with reasonable accommodations, and focus your applications on positions that are a good fit for your skills and capabilities. Some positions, such as remote jobs, may allow you to perform all job tasks successfully, without the need to disclose your disability to your employer.

  • The Burden of Documentation: Disclosing a disability and formally requesting accommodations may require you to provide to the employer documentation of your medical diagnosis, and physician recommendations for accommodations. Be prepared to provide such documentation if requested, if you are seeking accommodations. Within some organizations, self-diagnosis may be acceptable.

  • Visible vs. Invisible Disabilities: Visible disabilities are apparent, while invisible disabilities, such as mental health disorders or diabetes, permit more latitude in deciding whether to disclose. Invisible disabilities may require more extensive formal documentation in order to establish workplace recognition of the disability when a request for accommodation is made.


Pros and Cons of Disclosing Your Disability to Your Employer


Pros:

  • Disclosing your disability will enable you to receive reasonable accommodations to allow you to perform your job, and assist you to thrive in your workplace.

  • Via government programs, employers may benefit from employing people with disabilities, and therefore may welcome disclosures of disability.

  • Employers may provide job coaching and/or additional assistance to employees with disabilities.

Cons:

  • Employees who disclose their disability may face discrimination during the job application process and/or in the workplace. They may be treated differently than other employees, including being offered fewer opportunities for advancement.

  • While employers are legally required to maintain confidentiality of disability disclosures, it is possible that this information might be improperly shared, causing harm to the individual with the disability.


Example scenario

Sam is applying for a job as an editor at a publishing company. She has chronic Lyme disease, a neurological disorder that causes chronic fatigue and somatic pain, requiring her to take regular breaks from work and occasionally take sick days. She decides not to disclose her diagnosis during the job application process, and she is successfully hired and onboarded. She opts to work without disclosing her disability to her employer, but within a few weeks, she is reported by her supervisor for excessive absenteeism and low productivity. In a meeting with her company’s Human Resources staff and her supervisor, she discloses her chronic Lyme disease diagnosis, and explains that this is the cause of her absenteeism and underperformance. The management explains that she should have disclosed her disability upon being hired, to facilitate reasonable accommodations and ensure her productivity at work. She is placed on disciplinary probation, and in coordination with the HR staff and her employer, she shifts to a half-time position that will allow her to continue working, but accommodate her need for regular sick leave and her lower productivity due to taking frequent breaks.


Resources


Disclosing an Invisible Disability

Should I Tell My Employer About My Mental Health Problem?

Should You Disclose Your Disability on Your Resume? What to Consider




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