Disclosing in the Workplace: Strategies and Tips
You are entitled to accommodations in the workplace if you have a documented disability. This includes learning disabilities and mental health challenges.
reviewed by Nicole Ofiesh
Cognitive Behavioral Scientist
What Are My Rights?
In school your Individualized Education Program (IEP) or 504 Plan spells out your disabilities as well as the accommodations the school provides. But jobs don’t come with IEPs. And few supervisors have experience with learning and mental health differences.
There are several laws that guarantee workplace accommodations for people with disabilities. Laws to look at are Title I, II Subtitle A and Title III of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Sections 503 and 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, and Section 188 of the Workforce Investment Act of 1998. Each of these laws comes with three important requirements:
- The applicant or employee’s disability is verified.
- The applicant or employee meets all the requirements of the position, such as education level, experience and skills.
- The accommodations are reasonable and do not create a significant financial hardship for the employer.
For specific accommodations that are typical in a work setting for your disability and to better understand your legal protections, check our feature on the Job Accommodation Network.
Finding a Job That Will be Supportive
There are a few ways to determine if a work environment is going to be accepting and empowering for your specific disability. You always have the option to explicitly ask what the employer does to support employees with disabilities, but if you’re uncomfortable disclosing in the interview or the application process there are subtle indicators that can help you determine if this position will be a good fit:
- During the interview, ask questions about work flexibility that would be helpful to you and your learning/working style. This could be flexible work hours or work location flexibility. What does process, procedure or approvals look like in the organization–how much red tape is there?
- You can also learn a lot from any tasks you are asked to do during the application or interview process. Were you asked to do a task onsite at the interview? How much time are you given? Were you given any warning or time to prep? Were you able to take the task home and work on it there? What would happen if you had to advocate for yourself in the moment during the task, asking for additional time, or a quiet room? How do you think they would respond or how did they respond?
- Ask questions about how diversity is valued on the team. Listen for mentions of neurodiversity. If you feel comfortable, follow up by asking about neurodiversity specifically and see what they say.
To Disclose or Not to Disclose?
This is a personal decision! Whether you’re still in the interview process, or you’ve been at your job for a number of years, here are a few questions to ask yourself to help you make the best decision for you.
Questions to Ask Yourself About This Job
- How important is it to you that your employer knows about your disability?
- Does the job challenge your weaknesses or emphasize your strengths?
- Do you think your disability will be viewed as an asset?
- Do you trust the employer?
You can disclose whenever you want, but we recommend you do before problems arise.
There is no perfect time to tell your employer that you have a disability, and some people choose to never tell their employers because an accommodation is not necessary for them to perform their job. But we recommend that if you do need accommodations or want your employer to know that you have a disability, do disclose before a problem arises that could have been avoided had you disclosed. Sharing that you have a disability after a problem has persisted for some time can look unprofessional and could be looked at as “making an excuse.” Iif you know a task may be difficult for you or not possible without an accommodation it is better to have the discussion ahead of time.
- You can ask for informal accommodations without disclosing.
- There are many technologies and tools that you can personally use to self-accommodate
- If you need formal accommodations provided by your employer you may need to disclose your disability.
- Many accommodations are free or very low cost, for example:
- Later start time to accommodate medication schedules
- Longer breaks to accommodate health needs
- Productivity, focus, and anti-anxiety apps
You can also read our article with guidance from the Department of Labor on disclosing in the workplace.
This article is part of CHC’s College and Career Transitions Collection.