If you have a physical or mental disability, is it absolutely necessary to disclose it to your employer?
It’s a common question in the workplace that many people with disabilities have, especially if the disability is still new to them, invisible to the public or if they’re just entering the workforce.
According to Annette Burrows, president of the Canadian Association for Support Employment (CASE), it is not required to disclose one’s disability unless it has to do specifically with the work.
For example, if part of the job is to lift 30 pounds regularly and it’s mentioned in the job description, then it would be normal for an employer to ask everyone if they are able to lift the weight when conducting interviews, regardless if they have a disability or not. And if a disability is preventing you from carrying out the duty, then disclosing it may be required.
But if your disability has nothing to do with the job you’re carrying out, should you still let your employer know?
It depends, Burrows says.
Some, she says, find it helpful as accommodations can be made by the employer that help make the employee’s job easier.
“There is a duty to accommodate so once an individual is hired by a company or employer, without significant hardship to the company, they would be mandated to find a way to solve that together,” Burrow says. “But sometimes you don’t know what resources are available… So you want to explore your options and avoid an undue hardship.”
If the job can’t be saved, then another duty might be a change in the position, Burrows adds. However, that is not mandatory.
(It’s important to remember though that many of these provisions vary on a case-by-case basis, Burrows says.)
Others, however, may be afraid to speak up as they fear it may impact how their employer sees them, or that they may lose their job.
While it all depends on the workplace, their culture and their flexibility when it comes to disabilities, overall there is still a stigma in many workplaces that prevents people with limitations from seeking support, or even employment in general, Burrow says.
In fact, according to Statistics Canada, the employment rate of Canadians between the ages of 25 and 64 with disabilities was 49 per cent in 2011 – that’s compared to 79 per cent for Canadians without a disability.
Of those with disabilities, 12 per cent report having been refused a job in the preceding five years as a result of their disability.
Among the reasons for not hiring those with limitations may include lack of knowledge about disability and accommodation issues, cost-related apprehensions and legal obligations, Statistics Canada speculates.
“This is unacceptable,” Burrows says. “There’s no reason that good, qualified people need to be at home instead of being in the community. I’m not sure if it’s the individual who has the disability, or the community that has a disability. It’s starting to show to me more that it’s our community – our perceptions, our preconceived ideas.”
Despite the obstacles that remain, Borrows says there are still a few ways people with disabilities can go about navigating the working world – from the interview stage to already being established within their employment.
If you’re applying for jobs or about to interview for one, it’s up to you if you’d like to disclose your disability, Burrows says.
Should you want to, but fear it might impact your chances, take the initiative by explaining to the employer at the interview what your disability is and what it means. Educate them, Burrows says, by letting them know how your disability will and won’t impact your ability to do the job.
If you already have employment and for whatever reason would like to inform your employer and co-workers, suggest organizing an info session with your employer and colleagues to educate them of your disability. For example, what is the disability you have, how does it affect you and what should they do in case of an emergency?
And if an issue happens to come up, there are people and places you can turn to for guidance, Burrows says. For example, your human resources department is a great place to start. You can also turn to a trusted co-worker, friends or your family.
For additional information about disabilities in the workplace, support and guidance, visit the CASE website here.