Should I Disclose My Disability At Work?

Question: 

I’ve worked at this company for over 7+ months undiagnosed. I’ve always had strange behaviors, moodiness, and trouble socializing yet workwise I’m fine. Basically, I do what I’m meant to do without issues ex: complete tasks, turn up every workday, being reliable, etc. The issues in regard to my mental health more revolve around my social aspects of work.

I was diagnosed with ADD, PTSD, and anxiety.

At times I am extremely blunt. Meanwhile due to abuse as a child to teens I’ve always had very poor social skills such as reading nonverbal cues or understanding other people. Coworkers do try connecting with me, but I feel bad because I’m so disconnected to others, I don’t know how to react to them while I’m jumpy, moody, and I guess ‘stiff’ in nature.

I’m taking meds for the ADD and getting therapy. I don’t know if I should tell management and mention things to coworkers. I somewhat want to, so they can understand my spastic behavior. I’m not sure if it will cause issues for me in my workplace to speak up about my mental health?

 Advice: 

In the US there is a federal law called the and many states and cities have also enacted statutes that protect people with disabilities from discrimination. That said, it would be beneficial for an employer to know of disabilities, so they can find the best ways to work with their employees.

Talk to HR First

Your first step should be contacting your HR department.  These professionals have the training, knowledge, and understanding of the laws around this topic.  As part of the American with Disabilities Act, an employer is obligated to provide “reasonable accommodations”. Once aware or suspecting the existence of a disability HR conducts an interactive interview process to evaluate and determine what “reasonable accommodation,” if any, is necessary for the employee or prospective hire to have in place to fulfill the essential functions of the position.

What to share with HR

You should share a medical note from your physician that has a diagnosis and recommendations for any accommodations needed. You can also verbally inform the employer of the need for accommodation during the interactive interview. The accommodation should focus on what is necessary for the person to be successful at work.

In this case focus on ways employees can interact with you successfully, and routines or norms that are unique to you.

 Other than expressing to HR, who will then communicate with your supervisor, your co-workers do not need to know your detailed health background. Discretion is key, an employee’s health should be treated with confidentiality.

What I recommend following the disclosure is the HR representative and the manager host a team-building exercise where the employees in the department can learn about each other and ways to engage and interact positively.

  • Examples of some of the different ways employers reasonably accommodate staff include:
  • Modify the approach to work or the environment that require creativity but little to no money. For example color-coded filing system, magnifiers, larger computer monitors; modify room brightness with lower wattage bulbs.
  • Remove non-essential job functions
  • Modify or provide a flexible work schedule
  • Allow intermittent breaks, which in general terms means as needed

One thing I don’t want to fail to mention when speaking about “reasonable accommodation” is “undue hardship”. An employer is not required to make a reasonable accommodation if the “action requires significant difficulty or expense” when considered in light of a number of factors. These factors include the nature and cost of the accommodation in relation to the size, resources, nature, and structure of the employer’s operation. Undue hardship is determined on a case-by-case basis.

Speaking to the newbie HR professionals and managers, the American with Disabilities Act can be tricky when blended with other leave statutes such as FMLA, Workers Compensation, and Disability. It’s ok to “pause”, digest, and do your due diligence before having a conversation with the employee or making final decisions. Knee jerk reactions can derail a process and put an employee on the defensive, so proceed with thoughtfulness.

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