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Disclosing a Disability to Your Employer

As you prepare for your job search, the Hubbard Center and Student Disability Services can provide resources and support to help you determine the best course of action to take.

Determining if, when, and how to disclose a disability to an employer depends on your unique situation. This webpage will provide information that may help decide what is best, but we always encourage you to speak with the Director of Disability Services and ADA Compliance about your individual questions and goals.  

We have provided information in a Q&A format, in case this helps you find the information that if of most significance to you.  Remember: There is no clear answer for when, if, and how to disclose a disability. Always understand yourself and your rights, and don’t forget your DePauw resources are here to help!   


Questions

As an individual with a disability, am I protected by law in the workplace?

Do I need to disclose my disability to an employer?

Can an employer ask me if I have a disability or require me to take a medical test?


If I disclose, when should I do so?

How do I disclose my disability or ask for a reasonable accommodation?

What is a “reasonable accommodation” in the workplace?


If drug testing is a requirement, do I need to disclose any medication I am taking beforehand? 

Can I be terminated because of my disability?

What do I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?

Additional Tips for Disclosing a Disability to Your Employer

Additional Resources


As an individual with a disability, am I protected by law in the workplace?

Employees are protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) law, but only if they choose to disclose their disability to the employer.

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Do I need to disclose my disability to an employer?

It is up to the individual to decide whether or not to disclose a disability to an employer, but if he/she chooses not to, he/she will not be protected under the ADA. Many employees choose not to disclose their disability if they do not need an accommodation at work or would like to keep their disability private. However, reasons employees choose to disclose their disability include to: obtain protection under the ADA, request a needed accommodation, serve as a role model or educate others, or relieve stress from “hiding” the disability, knowing that all information shared must be kept confidential.

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Can an employer ask me if I have a disability or require me to take a medical test?

If you are applying for a job, an employer may ask whether you can perform the job and how you would perform the job, with or without a reasonable accommodation. The employer may not ask you to answer medical questions or take a medical exam before a job offer. After you are offered the job, the offer may be made with certain conditions such as passing a medical exam, but all new employees in the same type of job must take the same exam—not just employees with a disability. Generally, once you are hired, an employer can only ask medical questions or require a medical exam if medical documentation is needed to support your request for an accommodation.

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If I disclose, when should I do so?

It is ultimately the individual’s decision when to disclose, and there are many possible variables to consider. For instance, individuals with apparent disabilities may have a different timeframe than those with non-apparent disabilities. Timing options may include disclosing on a résumé, during an interview, after an offer has been made, or while the employee is working in the position. Advice for when and how to disclose a disability will always be determined on a case by case basis. You are strongly encouraged to contact Pamela Roberts, the Director of Disability Services and ADA Compliance, to discuss your unique situation.

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How do I disclose my disability or ask for a reasonable accommodation?

The process of preparing to disclose a disability or to ask for an accommodation is a three-step process that includes preparation (i.e. understanding your strengths and challenges as they relate to the position), preparing and practicing a script, and finally, disclosing to the employer. When disclosing, it is important to be positive, confident, and brief. Remember, the individual with the disability sets the tone. If you are positive and relaxed, the employer will be, too. Contact Pamela Roberts for additional information, practice, or support regarding this process.

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What is a “reasonable accommodation” in the workplace?

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), “In general, an accommodation is any change in the work environment or in the way things are customarily done that enables an individual with a disability to enjoy equal employment opportunities.” A reasonable accommodation does not change essential job functions and may vary depending on the size of the organization.

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If drug testing is a requirement, do I need to disclose any medication I am taking beforehand?

Companies have the right to require a drug-free workplace, so regular or random drug testing may be a requirement in a variety of industries. If you are taking medication that would show up on a drug test such as stimulant medications for ADHD, antidepressants, seizure medication, and others, a “false positive” result may occur. As a result, the individual with a disability may want to disclose their use of certain medications prior to testing. However, the individual also has rights such as being given the opportunity to show medical documentation, being able to take a second test to confirm results, be provided with a copy of results, be given the chance to appeal any decisions related to results, and have all private information disclosed remain confidential. The individual should also be given an opportunity to explain positive test results before they are given to an employer or potential employer, and confirmation from a doctor may be required.

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Can I be terminated because of my disability?

Employers can terminate an employee with a disability if the termination is unrelated to the disability, the employee does not meet essential requirements for the job (with or without an accommodation), the individual poses a direct threat to the health or safety of the workplace, or if an infraction is related to a disability that has not been disclosed.

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What do I do if I feel I have been discriminated against?

It is the employee’s responsibility to initiate a conversation with the superior or a representative from the Office of Human Resources at the place of work. The individual with a disability should describe what has happened and work with his/her employer to resolve the matter. If the situation is not resolved, the individual could submit a formal grievance to his employer.

Visit the EEOC or the Office of Civil Rights for more informatoin and to find a center near you.

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Additional Tips for Disclosing a Disability to Your Employer

Here are some additional tips that may be of help:

1. Be Positive: Discuss your courage, motivation, creativity, perseverance, work ethic, and other qualities that make you unique.  Stress your strengths and the contributions you can make to the organization.

2. Be Honest and Open: Know your disability and ask specifically for the accommodations you need.  Describe the positive outcomes that you could bring to the workplace that would result from accommodations being met.

3.  Be Confident: You will teach your employer how to respond to your disability based upon the way you handle disclosing it.  Share success stories of times you have overcome your disability.

4.  Be Well-Researched: Know when and what type of accommodation you will need.  Awareness of your needs and presenting them to your employer in a positive manner is the most successful approach to requesting accommodations and disclosing a disability.

5.  Be Brief: Your disability and accommodations are just one part of the process - don't make it a big deal.

6. Be Aware: Many corporations are pleased to recruit and hire people with disabilities.  Know who they are and explore your options with those organizations.

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Additional Resources:

Office of Civil Rights: http://www.hhs.gov/ocr/office/

U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC): http://www.eeoc.gov/

The Americans With Disabilities Act: http://www.ada.gov/

Job Accommodation Network: http://askjan.org/

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