Do I Have to Disclose My Disability to My Employer?

Two people sit at a computer screen together. An African American woman is showing an African American man something on the computer.

If you have a disability you might feel alone, but the truth is that almost 13% of Americans have a disability. Identifying as someone with a disability should not be a disadvantage, and in the workplace, legally speaking, you have protections if you have a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). If you’re applying for a job or currently at an employer that is asking you to disclose a disability, here’s what you need to know, including how legal representation can help.

What is the legal definition of a disability?

The ADA defines a person with a disability as someone who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more life activities; has a history or record of such impairment; or is perceived by others as having such an impairment. In plain speech, that means that someone with a disability does not have to be medically diagnosed for the disability to be present, and the disability does not need to be visible.

The phrase “substantially limit” means creating an impairment as compared to most people in the population. “Limits one or more life activities” can be commonly interpreted as things like sensory functions (seeing and hearing), cognitive abilities (thinking and concentrating), movement, daily actions like eating, sleeping, breathing, or tasks like working, reading or communications. It could also apply to major bodily functions such as reproduction and individual organs. Individuals who have disabilities have rights protecting them against discrimination.

What are some of the most common disabilities?

A few examples of disabilities might include cancer, autism, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), deafness or hearing loss, low vision, seizures, intellectual disabilities, mobility disabilities, autoimmune disorders, migraines, depression, or H.I.V. Conditions that may not be covered by the ADA would include things like mild pollen allergies, a cold, non-chronic gastrointestinal issues, or old age.

Why do I need to disclose my disability to my employer?

It might seem like a disability is something you want to keep to yourself and not inform your employer of, but the ADA protects those with disabilities. It’s your choice as an employee whether or not you want to disclose. However, disclosing your disability will allow employers to assist you with requesting reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job functions. Examples of reasonable accommodations include having a desk with adequate space for a wheelchair, flexible scheduling, or having assistive technology such as a screen reader. Should you ever feel discriminated against in the future, disclosing your disability to your employer can help you build a case. Additionally, you might not be the only employee who benefits from an accommodation.

While you might have privacy concerns or be weary of the stigma associated with having a disability, a good manager will make you feel supported and help get you a reasonable accommodation.

What happens if I don’t disclose my disability?

You might have seen a question about disabilities on a job application. Some choose not to disclose to protect themselves from being discriminated against during the hiring process, but employers are usually not allowed to ask questions about your disability unless there is a reason the employer needs to know about the disability, for example in order to provide a reasonable accommodation. Some reasons why an employer may be able to inquire about your disability include when it is necessary to know if you can perform job-related functions, or if it is job-related and consistent with business necessity. The ADA also requires employers to keep this information confidential and only share it for limited purposes.

If you keep your disability to yourself and are employed, you might be opening yourself up to potential pitfalls in the future, especially the legal kind. You might not get the accommodations you need to do your job, and it might be harder for you to do your job and therefore not meet expectations. More importantly, you might miss legal protections should you feel discriminated against in the future. By disclosing your disability up front, it establishes a paper trail to help support your claim if it comes to that.

If you feel you’ve been discriminated against for having a disability, contact us to set up a consultation.