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The decision about whether to talk to an employer about a disability or health condition is one that worries many people.  Sometimes called “being open” or “disclosure”.  A very general guideline would be to talk about it at a point where it will be useful for you or essential for the employer.

Should I talk about my disability/health condition with employers?

If you need any reasonable adjustments either for the interview process or to do the job well it is in your interests to tell the employer what you need. Otherwise you will have more challenges than the other candidates and may not perform at your best during recruitment, affecting your chances of getting the job.

If any disability or illness is ongoing AND you believe it is likely to affect your ability to do elements of your new job you do have a responsibility to inform your employer.  (i.e. if you knew before you applied for the role that it was likely that you would be unable to do parts of the job). 

If you are considering not being open with the employer about a disability that you know will affect you in a job it is important that you read the Equalities Act legislation thoroughly to understand the legal framework for this decision. You can choose not to but if you don't disclose and your pre-existing disability prevents you from fulfilling the job expectations you may find yourself in a difficult situation and your employer can, legally, terminate your contract. The Equalities Act can only protect you if you have disclosed and they recruited you in full knowledge.

If your disability or illness was temporary, a one off and in the past, without any reason to suppose it will reoccur you may choose not to disclose at all. Or to do so only in order to explain a gap on your CV.

If a disability or illness is temporary but reoccurs under stressful circumstances you may choose to disclose to a select number of people in order to put adjustments in place to reduce the likelihood of re-occurrence. There are obvious benefits in these circumstances. How and when you disclose is important and you may want to discuss this with a careers adviser.

If your disability has implications for health and safety, either of you or your colleagues, you are obliged to inform your employer under the Health and Safety at Work Act (1974). The majority of employers will have insurance that covers you should you have an accident or injury whilst at work. If you haven't disclosed a disability and you are injured because of it (e.g. during an epileptic seizure) you are unlikely to be covered by this insurance and your employer is unlikely to be liable for your injuries).

When to talk about disability with an employer

At application stage

Sometimes your disability or medical history has given you skills that enhance an application e.g. overcoming challenging situations, finding creative solutions with lateral thinking when a straightforward approach wasn’t possible, resilience.

Application forms often include a question about disability. This isn’t a way to screen you out. It is often part of an Equal Opportunities monitoring form. If no one with a disability applies, this indicates there may be unconscious bias in their marketing of the role or brand.

There is often little room for explanation on application forms. All disabilities, mental health in particular, are so diverse that if you choose to disclose at this stage you may want to discuss it with the recruitment team prior to sending in the application.

A CV isn’t a place to go into much detail. If you would like to account for a gap on your CV simply putting “time away from degree for medical reasons” is enough. Avoid using Cambridge jargon like Intermitting or DDH.

A cover letter, personal statement or other information section provides the space to talk about your individual circumstances should you wish to.

If an employer has policy which guarantees interviews to disabled applicants who meet the basic criteria you may choose to disclose to help you progress to interview.

When offered an interview

Many people choose to talk about a disability at this stage. You’ve got the interview based on your skills and experience but you need understanding or adjustments to get the most out of the interview process. Giving the employer plenty of notice is important as some adjustments take time to arrange.

On the interview day

Some people prefer to disclose face to face. They can gauge reaction and have a conversation about it. If you choose to disclose at an interview be aware that it may be the dominating feature of what they remember about you rather than what you say in the rest of the interview.

At the end of most interviews there is a section where the candidate is asked if they have any questions or want to discuss anything else. This may be an opportunity to ask about an organisations approach to supporting their workforce. Be aware of the interviewing panel’s timetable though. If you know your interview was 30 mins and the next is scheduled directly afterwards, then perhaps bringing up a disability at 25 mins may not be appropriate.

Don’t spring a demand for reasonable adjustments for interview on the day itself or expect understanding for lateness by disclosing on the day. This is likely to be perceived as demanding, unreasonable and may be seen as using your circumstances as an excuse.

After a job offer

For many, if they don't need adjustments for interview but will in the job itself this may well be an appropriate time to disclose.

How to talk about disability with employers

Disclose positively and tell them about your particular circumstances. Your situation is likely to be different from those with a similar diagnosis. What you need to enable you to work well will also be different.

Try to put any negative experiences behind you. Whatever your experience at school, university or other work environments this is a new start with new people.

Only talk about your disability in relation to the job you’re going for. Does it demonstrate that you have any skills or do you need any adjustments for the role or work place. You don’t need to go into detail about anything that is unlikely to come up in the job.

Don’t leave the employer to guess what you need.

 "I have had ME for several years”

This rather bald statement leaves everything to the employer's imagination and doesn't give them any information to either reassure them that you can do the job or help them adjust to help you in the role.

"I have had ME for several years. However, the symptoms have been lessening progressively for the last 2 years. I have built up to working 4 days a week for the last six months with no adverse reaction. My Doctor and I are confident that I will be able to work full time from now onwards. I would value the opportunity to discuss the possibility of flexible working hours from time to time as a reasonable adjustment should this become necessary.”

"I have suffered from depression in the past resulting in a period away from my studies. My depression is now managed well and my recent achievements show that I have the relevant skills and experiences for this role".

These statements are factual, don’t hide anything, shows that the individuals are positive and proactive about trying to ensure it doesn't affect their future work. Try to avoid emotive language when disclosing as this can come across as demanding or aggressive.

If you would like to discuss wording for your own circumstances please make an appointment to talk to a Careers Consultant.

Who to disclose to

Perhaps a more appropriate way of looking at this is who needs to know. Again, this will depend on your own circumstances and whether any particular work patterns affect your illness.

It is likely that your direct line manager or whoever is responsible for your workload will need to know, particularly if reasonable adjustments need to be made. Personnel or an Occupational Health Adviser may become involved as well at this stage.

If you negotiate flexible working hours, perhaps coming in later and working later because you find travelling in the rush hour triggers panic attacks, for example, it may become appropriate to disclose more widely. Not necessarily because the rest of the team you work with needs to know for their job, but because a more open approach can pre-empt resentment within the team. Without the relevant information they may see adjustments as preferential treatment or worse, unprofessionalism on your part.

If any pre-emptive or reactive action needs to be taken, under some circumstances it would be wise to disclose to those in your team. e.g. Epileptics or those prone to sudden panic attacks often brief their team on what to do during an attack or should they spot any pre-attack signs.

If you disclose to a line manager and do not wish it to go any further. you would be wise to make this clear in writing so that there is no confusion.