To Disclose or Not to Disclose?

Going to an interview can be stressful enough, but if you have a disability or a health concern, it complicates things further and can add to the stress.

It is important to make clear that you are not obligated to say anything about your disability or health concern and the employer cannot discriminate against you either at the time of hiring or after they have hired you. You are not required by law to disclose any health-related matters to prospective employers.

That said, we do not live in a perfect world. It would be ideal to share all relevant information to prospective employers and for them to throw away any negative judgements or worries they might have and not discriminate, however, in real life that is not always the case. Employers cannot discriminate, yet some may feel deceived or view an employee as untrustworthy if a disability or health concern was not disclosed in advanced, and it could potentially jeopardize the future of the employee in the organization.

Regardless of the disability or health-related issue, it is the responsibility of the job candidate to be forthright and answer legitimate interview questions with honesty, and take issue with inappropriate interview questions, rather than not respond honestly. For example, if the job requires you to lift heavy boxes or stand for long periods of time and you cannot do so because of your disability or health, you must disclose in the interview that you cannot meet this requirement. However, it is equally important to note, you are not obligated to disclose why you cannot meet the requirement, and the employer cannot legally ask you why you cannot.

When you are applying for a job, you need to ask yourself, “Do I have the knowledge, skills and abilities to do this job?” If you do, then you should apply with confidence. The employer for their part, once they hire someone, has a legal “duty to accommodate.” For example, by providing physical accessible devices or adjusting hours of work.

Legal obligations aside, telling a prospective employer about your disability or health concern is an important and difficult decision to make and very much a personal decision that is ultimately up to you. If you do choose to disclose, be prepared to answer any questions or address any concerns the employer may have. Know what workplace accommodations you may need, including costs and any funding programs the employer may be able to access.

Regardless of your disability, you still need to communicate effectively and “sell yourself” to the employer. Demonstrate that you are the best candidate for the job, based on your knowledge, skills, abilities and work experience. Focus on your skills and qualifications and do not present your disability or health concern as a weakness.

Research the company and get to know their culture. If you know the organizational culture is one that supports diversity and work life balance, then it is likely a good strategy to disclose. If the organization has a history of discrimination or poor employer-employee relations, than not only do you not want to disclose information, you need to ask yourself, “Do I want to work for an employer like that?” Use social media tools like LinkedIn and connect with people who currently work for the organization, or have in the past, and ask them about the organization’s management style, work environment and organizational culture.

There are inherent risks and uncertainty in disclosing a disability or health concern at any time in the job search process. You can minimize the risk and uncertainly by knowing that you are not obligated to disclose anything about your health and an employer cannot discriminate based on a disability or health concern. But also, know your skills and abilities, and be prepared to back those up with examples of your achievements. Focus on what you offer a potential employer. Research the employer and their management team; the more you know about their organizational culture, the better position you will be in to make such an important decision.

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