Today, there are a surprising number of professionals who have been diagnosed with “invisible” disabilities. This can include any qualifying condition that can’t be ascertained merely by observing a person, including mental health conditions, autoimmune disorders, issues with chronic pain, and more.
Often, those with a visible disability have an easier time disclosing it to the employer, partially because it’s practically unavoidable. However, those with invisible disabilities may be scared to speak up, often out of fear of being judged or worry they won’t be believed.
However, it’s important to understand you don’t need to be scared about disclosing an invisible disability, particularly if it is covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). As long as you can successfully do the job you were hired to do (with or without reasonable accommodation), there are legal protections in place. Plus, by coming forward, you may gain access to accommodations or support that can help you thrive, making it a worthwhile venture.
If you are contemplating whether to disclose an invisible disability to an employer, here’s what you need to know.
Decide Who to Inform
Legally, if you require accommodations based on an ADA-qualifying condition, you only need to inform HR, or its equivalent. You can choose to discuss it with your manager as well, but that isn’t technically a requirement.
In some cases, cluing in your boss could be a smart move. It ensures they understand the nature of your situation, which may help them set reasonable expectations regarding your performance or reduce the chances they’ll have questions about your accommodations. However, if you are concerned the response may be negative, you can choose to keep your condition private.
Some professionals feel comfortable talking about their conditions with co-workers as well. But that has drawbacks, too, as you may become the topic of workplace gossip or people you would prefer not know might find out.
Use a Formal Approach
Discussing a qualifying disability isn’t something you should do in passing. While you can certainly talk about it in person, you need to go a step further. Ideally, you want to create a record of the conversation, so you might want to readdress the situation in an email.
Identify yourself as an individual with a disability and state that you are requesting ADA accommodations. Outline the tasks that are causing you difficulty and describe potential accommodations that meet your needs, ensuring you aren’t just presenting a problem but possible solutions as well. If you have relevant medical documentation, make sure to attach it. Request input from your employer regarding the request for a timely response.
If you didn’t supply medical documentation immediately, understand your employer can request it. Typically, this is can be as simple as a note from your doctor confirming you have a condition covered by ADA and that an accommodation is necessary.
Understand Employers’ Rights
It is important to note that, even if your condition is covered by the ADA, that doesn’t mean your employer can never take any action that impacts your job. If you are unable to perform your duties with reasonable accommodations, they are allowed to find you a lateral move that better matches your capabilities. If a lateral position isn’t open, they can demote you into an open role. And, if neither of those options is available or you can’t succeed in the other jobs, they might be legally able to terminate your employment.
Usually, any of those actions can’t be done on a whim, and most employers will make a reasonable effort whenever possible. However, that doesn’t always mean you’ll like the results and, just because you aren’t thrilled with the outcome, doesn’t necessarily mean something illegal has occurred. But, if you feel you are or were being treated unfairly, you may want to discuss it with a lawyer or the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) for guidance.
Ultimately, disclosing a disability can seem daunting, but it can also be an incredibly beneficial move, ensuring you have access to accommodations if needed. If you’d like to learn more, the team at CPS Recruitment can help. Contact us with your questions today and see how our ADA compliance expertise can benefit you, and how we can help you find a better Upstate NY job.