Disclosing Your Disability

It is your right to choose whether or not to disclose your disability. Disclosing your disability means telling your employer or potential employer that you have a disability. Your employer does not have the right to ask you about your disability during the hiring process before a job offer is made. Even after an employer makes a job offer, there are legal limits about when and what an employer can ask you about your disability.

You decide if you want to voluntarily disclose your disability and you base that decision on your personal needs, preferences, and comfort level with your disability. Carefully consider whether to disclose your disability when you apply for a job, start a new job, become disabled, or become aware that the nature of your disability is changing.

The Benefits of Disclosure

One of the reasons you may decide to disclose your disability is that it lets you request a reasonable accommodation during the application process, to perform the job duties, or to access benefits. When you tell your employer that you have a disability and that you need an accommodation, you begin a process that is unique to you and your particular circumstances.

Disclosure Example

If all applicants for a job need to take a timed exam, a person with a traumatic brain injury can request more time to take the exam. To do so, he will have to tell the employer he has a disability and why that means he needs extra time. Even though the employer now knows the person has a disability, the ADA makes it illegal for the employer to use this information when making the hiring decision.

Unless the employer can show that the need for extra time on the exam is evidence that the person will not be able to perform the essential functions of the job, the employer cannot lower the score of the employment exam because this applicant used an accommodation.

Another reason why you may choose to disclose your disability to an employer or potential employer is if you have an impairment that is readily visible to others. You are not required to voluntarily disclose your disability during the hiring process or after you have been offered a job, but you may decide you want to address your disability upfront. For example, you may want to educate your employer or coworkers about your disability and prevent stigma, discrimination, and misinformation others may have about it.

How Much to Disclose

If you decide to disclose your disability to your employer, how much information and detail you share about your disability is entirely up to you. When your employer has a legitimate need to know about your disability, you only have to supply the information that is necessary to address the performance of your essential job functions.

For example, an employer may have a legitimate need to know more about your disability when you ask for a reasonable accommodation or if you stop performing your job safely after having a good safety record. There is no need to give details about your disability beyond what is necessary to answer your employer’s legitimate disability-related questions.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has information about what sorts of questions your employer can legally ask. If you aren’t sure about a question, you can contact Missouri Protection and Advocacy Services (MO P&A) and ask them.

Example

An employee tells her employer 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 a reasonable accommodation and not ask for more detailed information about your disability. Other employers may want you to give them specific documentation of your disabling condition, as a basis for the reasonable accommodation. If you cannot show that you have a disability or that the disability-related accommodation you are requesting is necessary during the hiring process, for performing your job, or for accessing job benefits, the employer has a right to deny your accommodation request.

For more information on what to do when your employer asks for medical information when you ask for an accommodation, click here.

The Responsibilities of the Employer

“Can you perform the essential functions of your job with or without reasonable accommodation?” This is the only question about your disability that a potential employer can usually ask when you apply for a job.

If you have voluntarily disclosed your disability to a potential employer, an employer may also ask whether you need accommodations and how you would perform the job with those accommodations.

A potential employer cannot ask questions that would require you to give information about your disability during the hiring process. For example, a potential employer is not allowed to ask you:

  • How many sick days you took at your previous job
  • If you have ever applied for Workers’ Compensation
  • If you are taking prescription drugs

For more information about your rights during the job application process, click here.

If you cannot meet the essential functions of the job with reasonable accommodations, it is legal for the employer to decide not to hire you (or to let you go if they have already hired you). For example, you decide to apply for a job at a factory to operate heavy machinery and the employer prohibits the use of certain medications while you are at work, but you need to take those medications to keep your health. The employer must justify that these requirements are necessary for that specific job and to conduct the employer’s business. In this example, because it is an essential function of the job to work with heavy machinery, and you must take a medication that makes you drowsy, and it would be dangerous to take these medications and operate heavy machinery, the employer may decide that you cannot perform the essential functions of the job.

Once you have been offered a job, an employer can make certain requests, as long as the requests apply to everyone equally and you are not singled out because of your disability. For example, an employer can require you to take a medical examination if all other employees for that job are also asked to pass a medical examination.

If you tell your employer about your disability and ask for a reasonable accommodation, your employer is allowed to ask for documentation of your disability to understand how to best accommodate it.

Confidentiality

The ADA requires that employers keep any information they have about your disability strictly confidential. This includes medical information from medical exams that you voluntarily disclosed or from other health or wellness programs. Your employer can only disclose your disability to people who are required to know about it. For example, a manager or supervisor may need to know about your limitations or accommodations and safety personnel may need to know how to assist you in case of an emergency.

Disclosing Is Your Right

It is your right to choose whether to voluntarily disclose your disability during the hiring process and during employment. You must understand that if you choose not to disclose your disability and you are unable to perform the essential functions of your job, your employer can 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 has designed a Disclosure Decision Tree tool that can help you decide whether or not it makes sense for 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.