The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination against otherwise qualified individuals with disabilities in regards to the application process, hiring procedures, and advancement protocol. The law further requires employers with fifteen or more employees to make reasonable accommodations for known disabilities. To access accommodations under ADA, an employee must disclose their disability.

This blog explores how, why, and when someone should consider disclosing a disability.

How Does Disclosure Work? When Should I Disclose? 

First of all, disclosure is a personal choice. The ADA does not require you to disclose your disability. The law also prohibits employers from asking disability or medical questions during the application process. Some people with disabilities never disclose it.

This being the case, you must disclose to get ADA protections and accommodations. You can disclose at any point in the employment process, including the application procedure, post-job offer, or even after years of employment. The timing of your disclosure depends on your personal circumstances and preferences.

Disclosing During the Application Process 

If you require accommodations to complete the application or interview, you should disclose upfront to ensure you have full access to the application process. Immediate disclosure can also give you a glimpse of the workplace culture. The company’s willingness, or lack thereof, to accommodate you can help you decide if this is the place for you.

While pre-employment disclosure is right for some people, it has its drawbacks. For one thing, there are gaps between the legal standards set by the ADA and their application. We have all heard about covert forms of discrimination. It is not too difficult for a concerned (and uninformed) employer to pass up the outstanding application of someone with a disability for a mediocre applicant who simply “seems like a better fit” after the interview.

Many applicants are rightfully afraid that disclosing a disability or medical condition before receiving a job offer will open the gates for discrimination. There is nothing wrong with waiting until you have received a job offer to disclose your condition and request accommodations.

Disclosing After the Job Offer 

If you decide to wait for a job offer before disclosure, you should be strategic. There are times in which you might need to disclose the first day. However, this is not always the case. If you receive your job offer during remission, you might want to take this opportunity to learn more about the job requirements to see how your disability will impact you.

Nevertheless, you should disclose before your condition begins affecting your job performance. The ADA does not require employers to take retroactive action for employees who did not disclose. In other words, an employer is not required to exempt you from a poor observation, demotion, or termination if you disclose after the fact.

Disclosure Process 

Employers often have their own procedures for disability disclosure. Check your employee handbook to see your employer’s process. If you are comfortable doing so, you can also reach out to your direct supervisor.

It is generally advised that you make accommodation requests in writing so that you have a record. According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, you simply need to inform your employer that you have an impairment and need workplace adjustments. You can do so in “plain English” without referencing the ADA.

*Pro-tip: Using plan language for your initial request may set the tone for a friendlier conversation with your supervisor. Some employers might interpret legal references as threats. This could put them on guard.

Your Rights During the Disclosure Process 

If you have an invisible disability like IBD, your employer might ask for documentation to prove your disability status. This documentation simply needs to confirm that you have a medical condition and explain the limitations it imposes on you. A physician’s note should suffice. Your employer cannot demand extensive medical records or detailed reports about your condition.

All disability information you give your employer must remain confidential. The supervisor or human resource office to whom you disclose is prohibited from sharing this information with your colleagues.

Quick Tips 

  • Remember that disclosure is ultimately your choice.
  • There are benefits and drawbacks to disclosing before receiving a job offer. On one hand, early disclosure can lead to covert forms of discrimination. On the other hand, immediate disclosure can provide insight into a company’s culture.
  • You should strongly consider disclosing as soon as your condition begins to impact your productivity.
  • You should make your accommodation request in writing so that you have a record of it.
  • You do not need to use legal terminology when requesting accommodations. In fact, it is often best to avoid legal terms as they can create unintentional tension between you and your employer.

Related Girls with Guts Blogs 

Applying for Accommodations Under the Americans with Disabilities Act

The History of the Americans with Disabilities Act

Related Resources 

Job Accommodations Network: Disability Disclosure 

United States Equal Employment Commission: Your Employment Rights 

• About The Author
Kate Shannon holds an MA in American Studies and a BA in History and American Studies. She is currently working as a high school special education teaching assistant while taking classes towards an MS in Student Disability Services in Higher Education. When she is not working, Kate loves reading, visiting history museums, practicing the clarinet (a new hobby she picked up after her diagnosis), volunteering with children and animals, and doing yoga. Kate was diagnosed with Ulcerative Colitis in 2018 and had her colon removed in 2019. She is a j-pouch patient who is extremely grateful for the new life her surgeries gave her.
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