Discussing disability with your employer
By: Philippa Harrington, On: 06 January 2021
Statistics from the government suggest one in five people in the UK are living with a disability. If you think this figure seems high, bear in mind that many disabilities are invisible to others.
Living with a hidden disability can make life more demanding for many people. If you have a hidden disability such as autism, COPD, diabetes, a sleep disorder, or mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, you may be wondering how you can discuss this with your employer. Below, we’ve listed some tips and advice to bear in mind.
Do you have to disclose a hidden disability?
No, you don’t. However, there can be benefits of disclosing your hidden disability to your employer. What’s more, we’re much more accepting as a society today regarding disabilities, so don’t let fear stop you from sharing your disability with your boss. Under the Equality Act 2010, companies are required to provide reasonable accommodations for people who disclose a disability, so doing so could see you get the support you need to perform your job to your full potential.
Getting a job with a disability
People with a hidden disability often worry about the implications when they try to get a job, but there is no need to worry. If you have a hidden disability, it’s probably best to let the employer know when they offer you the position. They can’t retract the job offer due to your disability (except in exceptional circumstances). If your workplace acknowledges hidden disabilities and shows support for them, it might have no effect on your job at all; but if you have informed them, they can be prepared to make any possible adjustments in the future.
Disclosing your disability
If you have a hidden disability but you decide not to disclose it at work, that is up to you. If you do declare to your employer, they must keep it confidential, unless sharing it with your colleagues is felt to be mutually beneficial. This should only be done with your consent.
Arranging to let your employer know about your disability
If you are at work and your hidden disability becomes a problem, you should ask to have a meeting with your employer. If you feel uncomfortable doing this on your own, ask a union representative or a colleague to go with you. You could ask your colleague to take notes as listening to what is being said and remembering it all might be a bit of a challenge. Your employer has a duty of care to make reasonable adjustments if necessary once you have told them.
Obviously, if your disability is hidden and you haven’t told them, they couldn’t be blamed for not taking your condition into account. You cannot legally be sacked or demoted solely due to your hidden disability, but you obviously cannot continue to work in the same role if you are a danger to yourself or others, so there has to be sensitivity and rationality on both sides. It might be a good idea to put any decisions made to you in writing, so you have a record and to make sure any verbal promises are carried out.
After you have told your employer about your disability
You should feel better once you have seen your employer and they may surprise you in their desire to help you. It could feel like a weight has been lifted. You may no longer be worried about doing your job properly and maybe even making yourself unwell with stress and anxiety. Your colleagues should not think negatively about you now they are aware of your disability; after all, disabilities are usually outside our own control, like whether we have brown eyes or green eyes. You may even enjoy your work more, perform better, and find support from unexpected colleagues!
Further help and advice on disability
Hopefully, your workplace will be supportive but if you don’t feel you are being helped as well as you could be, and having exhausted all avenues with your employer, you can approach outside agencies, such as the Citizens Advice Bureau and law centres, for free or cost-effective advice.