Written by attorney Diane Wiscarson

Self Disclosure in Employment: A Guide for Individuals with Disabilities

Am I required/ How much am I required to tell an employer about my disability?

The information you must disclose to an employer is dependent on whether you will need accommodations and the nature of those accommodations.

Employers are only required to provide reasonable accommodations for “known" disabilities. If you need accommodations from your employer, you must disclose both your disability and what you need accommodations for (e.g. accessibility, reading, processing speed, visual impairment). It is helpful if you can propose potential accommodations.

If you do not require accommodation, then you are not obligated to volunteer any information about your disability.

It is important to know that any confidential medical information you share with your employer must be maintained confidentially, with some exceptions for safety, insurance and ADA compliance purposes.

What is an employer allowed to ask me/what do I have to answer?

The ADA prohibits employers from asking questions likely to reveal the existence of a disability before making a job offer. This prohibition covers written questionnaires and interviews, as well as medical examinations.

Examples of permissible questions prior to a job offer:

  • Are you currently using or have you ever used illegal drugs?
  • Questions about current temporary impairments, such as a broken leg.
  • Do you drink alcohol?
  • Have you ever been arrested for driving under the influence?
  • Option during application to voluntarily self-identify as an individual with a disability for affirmative action purposes. (must state that the answer is voluntary and any information will be kept confidential and only used in accordance with the ADA, and be kept separate from the application).

Examples of prohibited questions prior to a job offer:

  • Do you have a heart condition? Do you have asthma or any other difficulties breathing?
  • Do you have a disability which would interfere with your ability to perform the job?
  • Do you need reasonable accommodations to do this job?
  • How many days were you sick last year?
  • Have you ever filed for workers' compensation or been injured on the job?
  • Have you ever been treated for mental health problems?
  • What prescription drugs are you currently taking?
  • How often did you use drugs in the past?
  • How often/much do you drink alcohol?
  • Can you [major life activity, e.g. walk, lift, stand]?

An employer can ask questions likely to reveal the existence of a disability after extending a job offer, but only if the employer asks the same questions of all applicants offered the same type of job. The same applies to medical examinations.

An employer may also describe the application process and ask all applicants if they will need any reasonable accommodations to take part in the process, however, you DO NOT need to disclose any accommodations you will need for the job itself.

If your disability is obvious or if you choose to disclose a disability, an employer may ask if you will need accommodations to perform a specific task related to the job, but only if it is reasonable given the nature of your disability. An employer can also ask you to demonstrate or explain how you would perform a job with or without accommodations if they believe that you will need an accommodation.

What information should I volunteer beyond the requirements?

If you have an IEP or § 504 plan from your high school, you should provide a copy of the accommodations documentation to your employer, after you are offered a job, in order to help them provide the accommodations you need.

As a basic principle, once you have accepted a job offer, you should share as much information related to your need or potential need for accommodation as you feel comfortable sharing. The more your employer knows, the better they can work with you to provide proper accommodations. Additionally, if you establish a record of potential need for accommodation when you begin employment, even if you are not experiencing much impact from your disability at the time, employers are generally more understanding if your disability flares up later.

If you are using the break room or dining facilities or participating in other activities/events organized and provided by your employer, it is important to inform your employer of any reasonable accommodations you might need in those areas as well.

What questions should I refuse to answer, or what information should I not disclose?

If you feel particularly uncomfortable sharing information with your employer, and the confidentiality laws do not ease that discomfort, then you can keep to yourself any information not directly related to needed accommodations.

If your disability has impacts on your life but no bearing on your job or any job-related service you are interested in using, then there is no reason to share that information with your employer.

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