I am a second seat trainee solicitor at Reed Smith LLP, and I am currently on secondment to the human rights charity Reprieve. Before this, I sat in Reed Smith’s Financial Industry Group where I assisted with a range of transactional and regulatory matters. I have a primary immunodeficiency and lung condition, both of which are invisible disabilities.
1.Do I have to disclose my disability in the workplace?
The short answer is no; you can choose not to disclose your disability to your employer. Having a disability is a very personal experience, there is no legal requirement that you must share this within your workplace.
However, disclosing your disability is the first step to accessing the support that you need from your employer. Once you have disclosed a disability to your employer, whether during the recruitment process or once you have started a job, they have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to prevent any disadvantage to those with a disability compared to those without a disability.
My experience of disclosure is linked to the nature of my disability as an invisible condition. In this case, if I did not disclose it to my employer, it would be difficult for them to meaningfully accommodate the support and flexibility that I need to be able to do my job to the best of my ability.
2.Who to disclose to?
Once you decide that that you wish to discuss your disability with your employer, you will need to identify who in your organisation to disclose to. In my experience it is beneficial to disclose both to someone from human resources (HR) and your manager or close team.
Disclosing to HR
Disclosing to HR will mean that your disability is properly documented on your employer’s systems and that you are made aware of the support that you can benefit from. You may have a meeting with someone from the HR team to discuss your disability, where you may be asked questions about the nature of your disability and how it can impact your work. Ahead of this meeting, it is helpful to think about how your disability affects your daily life, and how it may have influenced any previous roles you have had. It is also useful to come to this meeting with an idea of the kind of support that you would find helpful. This can provide a starting point for your employer to offer the reasonable adjustments that you need – such as flexibility in terms of hybrid working or specialist equipment.
Your employer may also refer you to an occupational health provider, who will provide an independent report recommending reasonable adjustments based on what you discuss around your disability and how it impacts your work.
You can request that your discussions with either HR or an occupational health provider are treated confidentially, and that only the reasonable adjustments that you agree on are passed on to your employer more broadly. If it would make you feel more comfortable, you can also request to have someone else present at a meeting with your employer or occupational health provider.
Disclosing to a manager
If your disability is likely to impact your daily working patterns, you might also find it helpful to discuss your disability and reasonable adjustments with your manager or supervisor. In many cases it is helpful for those you work closely with to know that you have a disability, and about any reasonable adjustments you have in place so that they can support you too. For example, if your condition requires you to attend frequent appointments, you can discuss whether it is helpful for you to block these out in your manager’s calendars so they are aware that you may have limited capacity during that time.
3.When to disclose
It is up to you when you choose to disclose your disability if you do decide to do so and you can do this at any point, in an application form, during a job interview or once you are employed.
Disclosing during the recruitment process
You may feel that your disability is not relevant to your application when applying for a new job. There is no obligation to discuss your disability in your application form, and you may want to focus instead on your suitability for the role and your relevant skills. It may be relevant to mention your disability where you feel that it has given you transferable skills that are linked to the role, for example time management, effective prioritisation, empathy or communication.
However, many employers will encourage applicants to disclose their disability from the start of the application process. This could be through indicating that you have a disability on an application form. This information should be treated confidentially and used to see whether there are any adjustments or support that the employer can provide to assist you through the recruitment process. This could be extra time for assessments, or specialist equipment or accessibility requirements ahead of an interview. In my experience, I see disclosing at this point as one way of accessing the support that you may need during the application process.
Your interview is not the time or place to discuss your disability not least because it takes time away from assessing you for the suitability for the role. However, an interview may provide a helpful opportunity to find out more about the general support and benefits that the employer may offer. You could ask whether the employer has any internal networks or groups around disability or health at work, or about the actions they are taking to ensure an inclusive and disability-friendly culture.
Disclosing in the course of employment
If you have not raised your disability during the recruitment process, raising it early when settling into a new job or when working with a new team can be helpful to help you and others understand how your disability may affect your work and the support that you need to do your job to the best of your ability.
If you are already doing a job but have not yet disclosed your disability, you won’t be in trouble for choosing to disclose it later. Your condition may have changed, your role may have shifted, or you may have only just worked out how to frame and approach the conversation. For example, my condition fluctuates often and requires frequent monitoring and appointments. I find that I end up discussing my changing needs with my employer when my condition changes to let them know about any additional flexibility I may require.
4.Top tips and advice
When disclosing your disability, it helps to be positive about what you can do, and what would help you. I find it helpful to come to the table with suggestions of adjustments that have worked for me in the past, so your employer knows how best to support you. Remember that you are the expert on your condition, and you know your disability and needs more than anyone else.
If you are worried about disclosing, seek out others in your place of work that may be in a similar position to find out about their experience. My employer has a vibrant and active disability network through which I was able to meet another employee who had previously disclosed their disability. Before I disclosed and formally sought adjustments, I had a conversation with them about their experience which, in turn, encouraged and empowered me to disclose.
Having a disability is a part of who you are as a person and an employee; it is not something that you should have to hide at work unless you want to. In my own experience with an invisible and rare condition, I find that having open conversations about my condition with my employer and team allows a greater understanding of my needs for support.