Millions of people have “invisible” disabilities that other people might not notice. Common examples include dyslexia, ADHD, and anxiety. If you have an invisible disability, it’s up to you whether you tell your employer about it. Telling your employer is called disability disclosure.
Deciding whether to disclose a disability is deeply personal. Disclosure sometimes leads to wrong assumptions about how the disability affects your work. And those assumptions can sometimes get in the way of getting hired or promoted.
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects against discrimination. But being treated differently is still a risk. To help you decide whether to disclose, it may help you to know what employers can and can’t ask about disability if you’re an employee or if you’re applying for a job.
Do I have to disclose during a job interview?
No. The ADA limits what employers can ask about disability during the interview. They can’t ask if you have a disability. They can’t ask how you became disabled. They also can’t ask medical questions or anything that might cause you to disclose. For example, they can’t ask how many days you were sick last year.
If you need an accommodation for the interview, however, you may need to disclose in order to get it. The ADA says you’re only entitled to the accommodation if you disclose. But not all employers require disclosure.
If I know I’ll need an accommodation on the job, do I have to disclose during the interview?
No. It’s your choice when to share this information. You can disclose on the first day of work or whenever you feel most comfortable.
Do I have to disclose after I get a job offer?
Possibly. Employers can ask about your ability to perform the essential functions of the job. They can also require a medical examination. But they can only do these things if they have the same requirements for everyone who is offered that job.
If you disclose, an employer can’t take away the offer unless they can show that you wouldn’t be able to do the job with a reasonable accommodation.
Do I have to disclose in order to get an accommodation on the job?
Maybe. If you ask for an accommodation, the employer can ask you to disclose your disability.
But different employers have different processes for providing accommodations. It’s up to the employer whether they require you to disclose and what paperwork you’ll need to submit. For example, some employers may require you to provide medical documentation. Some don’t.
If I disclose my disability to my boss, can my boss tell my teammates?
No. The same laws that limit what employers can ask about disability also protect confidentiality. If you tell your boss you have a disability, they can’t share this information with your team. They also should not share if you have an accommodation.
The only person who can share this information with your teammates is you.
How do I decide whether to disclose?
If you’re deciding whether to disclose, here are three things to consider.
1. First, is it necessary to disclose right away? For example, if you’re applying for a job, do you need an accommodation during the interview? If you do, one possibility is to ask for the accommodation without disclosing. You could say, “Can you turn on closed captions for our Zoom interview?”
Or maybe you’re debating how to explain gaps on your resume. Remember that it’s up to you whether to disclose a disability. If it’s not necessary to disclose now, you may want to take your time deciding.
2. If you can wait, look for signs that the employer is open to or at least aware of disability inclusion. Are the workspaces accessible to wheelchairs? Does the employee handbook make it easy to find out how to request an accommodation?
These are some outward signs that a workplace is open to accommodating the different ways people think, move, and function in the world.
3. Think about whether your disability will pose a challenge at work. If you know that you’ll struggle without an accommodation, it can help to ask for one before the challenge keeps you from doing your job well.
If I decide to disclose, who should I talk to and what should I say?
If you decide to disclose, think about what you share and with whom. A good rule of thumb: Share on a need-to-know basis or only with people you really trust.
If you need an accommodation, you can start by talking to your manager or someone in human resources. Choose based on who you’re more comfortable talking to.
For more tips on how to disclose, explore these resources:
This resource is intended solely for informational purposes and is not a substitute for legal advice.
About the author
About the author
Molly Touger is a writer and instructional designer based in Brooklyn, New York.
James Emmett, MS is the lead workplace strategist for Understood, supporting our efforts to create more inclusive workplaces for people with disabilities.