Disclosing a disability in the workplace—should you do it?
Getting a new job is one of the most difficult things that one has to do in life. Interview prep, refining technical skills, and projecting enough confidence to land a new job is stressful for anyone and a major stress inducer.
After an arduous job hunt and landing a gig, the new hire has to maintain good communication with their peers and management as well as insure they are meeting performance quotas.
However, not everyone achieves success in the same way. Those with disabilities often struggle to perform at the same level as their neurotypical peers. Individuals with disabilities often try to hide or mask their disability in the workplace for fear of retaliation.
This brings us to the question that many of my readers probably had at one point or another. Is it worth disclosing a disability to a potential or current employer?
The short answer
It depends. In reality, there are tradeoffs no matter whether you openly disclose or mask a disability, especially in the interview stage. Every employer is going to be different and I recommend talking about your options with a dedicated career coach.
The benefits of disclosing a disability
Disclosing a documented disability is recommended for three main reasons.
- The employer will most likely be more understanding and leniant with mistakes made on the job.
- Reasonable job accomodations can be more easily requested. Most large companies have procedures in place for requesting accomodations.
- Finally, personal job performance will be increased due to a level playing field with proper accomodations. Consequently, increased job performance often leads to raises and bonuses.
Alternatively, disclosing an undocumented disability that is only a suspected disability is more risky, but I would still recommend at least telling a trusted member of management if its at an existing employer. If employment contracts have not yet been signed, I would weigh the decision on whether to disclose or mask on a per-company basis. Larger companies are more likely to follow American Disability Act (ADA) compliance best practices and have established procedures for requesting reasonable accomodations.
What to do if things go wrong
If you are still employed and suspect that you are being mistreated due to a documented or suspected disability, immediately raise an issue within the company. Be sure to follow your company’s formal complaint policy and go through the official avenues for filing a workplace complaint. If your company does not have such a policy, raise a concern about the mistreatment with the human resources department or a trusted member of senior management.
It’s not necessary to raise a formal complaint within your company, but there are a few benefits to doing so. Most importantly, the company may cooperate with you and try to address your concerns appropriately, which would save you both time and money from legal affairs. The only way to know for sure is to at least try. If the company fails to take appropriate action, you now have written, verifiable proof that you brought the concern to their attention internally and gave them a reasonable chance to address it.
Filing a Disability Discrimination charge
In the unfortunate scenario that you are no longer employed, one of your options is to file a discrimination charge with the EEOC, the federal agency responsible for enforcing ADA compliance.
To file a charge, you can go to your local EEOC office. The EEOC does not take complaints online or over the phone. You will also need to have some information handy when you go such as names and contact information for you and your employer, the size of the employer, a description of the incident (include dates and times to the best of your knowledge), why you believe you were discriminated against, and your signature. For more information about the charge-filing process and how to file, visit the EEOC webite.
Talk to a Lawyer
Another option you can take regarding mistreatment due to a documented disability is to talk to an experienced employment lawyer. They can help you determine whether your employer has actually violated the ADA or state disability discrimination laws. Sometimes the incident would not be considered enforceable in the eyes of the law, so to save yourself the hassle, getting a professional opinion is worthwhile. On the flip side, if the company is in the wrong, the lawyer can assist you with negotiating a settlement with your employer, making an internal complaint, filing a charge with the EEOC, and finally representing you in a lawsuit.
In conclusion, depending on the specific company, it can be worthwhile to disclose a documented or suspected disability. At best, it sets expectations and levels the playing field among your colleagues. At worst, the company and/or position may not be the right fit and that’s okay. A job search is a stressful endevour and can be discouraging, but with proper planning and an open mind, it can be a rewarding experience for everyone involved.