Disclosing Your Disability

Disclosing your disability means telling your employer or potential employer that you have a disability. You have the right to choose whether or not to disclose your disability. Your employer, or potential employer, does not have the right to ask you about it.

You get to decide if you want to disclose your disability based on your personal needs, preferences, and comfort level with your disability. When you apply for jobs, start a new job, become disabled, or notice that the nature of your disability changes, you should consider whether or not disclosing is right for you.

The Benefits of Disclosure

The main benefit of disclosing your disability is that it lets you request a reasonable accommodation during the hiring process (interviewing, employment exams, or application process) or after you are hired. When you tell your employer that you have a disability and that you need an accommodation, you begin a process that requires the employer to consider your request.

Disclosure Example

If an employer requires all applicants to take an exam that has a time constraint, a person with a traumatic brain injury can request extended time. To do so, he will have to tell the employer he has a disability. Even though the employer now knows the person has a disability, the ADA makes it illegal for the employer to use this information when deciding whom to hire.

The employer cannot lower the score of the employment exam because a person with a disability used an accommodation, unless the employer can show that the speed someone uses to finish the exam shows that the person will not be able to perform the essential functions of the job.

Another reason to disclose your disability to an employer, or potential employer, is if you have an impairment that is readily visible to others. You are never required to discuss your disability, but if you address your disability upfront, even if you do not need a reasonable accommodation, you may be able to prevent stigma, discrimination, or misinformation related to your disability before they happen. To be open about your disability is always an option, but many people find it beneficial.

How Much to Disclose

How much information and detail you give your employer about your disability is your decision. Many people want to limit any medical information they give to their employers to just the information that is necessary to request an accommodation.

Example

An employee tells her employer only that she has a medical condition that is made worse by chemical cleansers and perfumes. She then requests that only scent-free or natural cleaning products be used in the office, that other employees no longer be allowed to wear scented products, and that her workspace be placed in a location that is well ventilated.

Some employers will accept your request for an accommodation even if you don’t give them detailed medical information about your disability. Others may want you to give them specific medical documentation to make sure that your medical condition is disabling and that the specific accommodations you requested are likely to be effective, which means they help you perform your job duties. If you cannot show that you have a disability or that the accommodation you are requesting is effective, the employer has the right to deny the accommodation.

For more information about what to do when your employer asks for medical information when you ask for an accommodation, read this article by the Job Accommodation Network.

The Role of the Employer

The only question about your disability that a potential employer is allowed to ask is if you can perform the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodation. A potential employer cannot ask questions that would force you to disclose your disability during the hiring process. For example, a potential employer is not allowed to ask you how many days you were absent from your previous job, if you have ever applied for workers’ compensation, or if you are taking prescription drugs. For more information about your rights during the application process, take a look at this EEOC information sheet about Job Applicants and the ADA.

Once you are offered a job, an employer can require a medical examination. And once you are hired, your new employer can make attendance a requirement of your job or say you cannot use certain medications while you are at work. However, the employer must justify that these requirements are necessary to do business.

If you disclose your disability and request a reasonable accommodation, your employer is allowed to ask for documentation of your disability to understand it and how to accommodate it. However, the employer is not allowed to disclose your disability to anybody else, unless it directly affects another employee’s job. For example, the manager of the employee who is sensitive to scented products may need to disclose the chemically sensitive medical condition to the Human Resources Manager who will enforce the new scent-free rule.

Confidentiality

The ADA requires that employers treat as confidential any medical information they get about a disability-related inquiry or medical examination, including medical information from voluntary health or wellness programs and any medical information voluntarily disclosed by an employee. Employers can share such information only in limited circumstances with supervisors, managers, first-aid and safety personnel, and government officials who investigate if the rules of the ADA are followed.

Disclosing Is a Right

Remember, it is your right to tell or not tell your employer about your disability. You are not required to disclose it. However, if you choose not to disclose your disability and you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job because you don’t have a reasonable accommodation you need, your employer has the right to take disciplinary action or fire you. If that happens, you cannot claim that the employer discriminated against you because you have a disability.

Disclosure Decision Tree

Virginia Commonwealth University designed a great tool that can help you decide whether it makes sense to you to disclose your disability to your employer and figure out how to do so. You can practice disclosing your disability with a close friend, family member, or career counselor to help you with your comfort level and skills. You can try the Disclosure Decision Tree.