Whether you’ve lived with your disability for a long time or you’re still getting used to it, you may interact with your workplace a little differently than your coworkers do. Many people struggle to decide whether to tell their employer about their disability, especially if it isn’t apparent or visible. If you have an invisible disability, you may weigh the pros and cons of telling people about it—will they treat you differently? Will your workplace be accepting? Are you asking yourself, “Should I disclose my disability to my employer?” Read these pointers, and make the decision that best suits your situation.
Too Soon or Too Late?
While it’s illegal for companies to ask you if you have a disability during an interview, when you apply for a job, there’s always a page on the application form that invites you to voluntarily disclose any disabilities you may have. Some folks want to be open and honest upfront but hold off on giving too much detail too early in the process. If a potential employer needs to know certain aspects of your disability (like if you cannot regularly lift 30-pound boxes), just give them the basics.
However, if you put off disclosing your disability until it begins to affect your work, you could run into problems at your performance review. The Americans With Disabilities Act only protects you if your employer is aware of your disability. You could still face consequences at your job if your performance suffers for disability-related reasons but your employer doesn’t know your situation.
Keeping It Discreet
If you require accommodations at work, your employer needs to know about your disability—but your coworkers don’t. When you disclose a disability to your employer, the law requires them to keep that information confidential. Under the ADA, you have a right to receive reasonable accommodations that help you do your job. Maybe you get extra breaks or more flexible work hours, but your coworkers don’t need to know why. After all, it is protected health information, and you have a right to confidentiality.
The most significant reason many people with disabilities disclose that information to their employer is to receive accommodations that help them perform their duties. That disclosure is more common with people who use visible aids like wheelchairs, white canes, or hearing aids. But if you have an invisible disability, like a neurological or mental health condition, you’ll need to tell your employer if you require accommodations.
Don’t feel embarrassed to disclose a disability if you know you need extra support. If you wait too long to tell your employer, thinking that you can handle your work without help, a dip in your performance could spell trouble. When you tell your employer about your disability, the ADA can’t retroactively protect your past performance issues.
Navigating the workplace when you have a disability can be intimidating, but your employer has a vested interest in keeping their employees happy and productive. Ask yourself, “Should I disclose my disability to my employer?” Depending on your performance and accommodation needs, the answer may be yes, but the decision remains up to you.