Should I disclose my disability/health condition to my employer?
In most circumstances, you would not be legally required to disclose a disability to an employer although there are some exceptions (for example, the Armed Forces). Disclosing a disability is your decision and it is up to you how and when you choose to do this. However, if there is a section on the application about serious health conditions or disabilities, it is important that you do not provide false information on the application form. If you do not want to disclose at this point, you can leave the question blank and disclose when it is right for you.
If you choose not to disclose a disability to your employer, you may not be protected by the Equality Act. An employer who is deemed to be unaware of an employee’s disability, may not be judged to have discriminated against them as they couldn’t have reasonably known that the employee had a disability. As soon as you disclose a disability to your employer, you are protected by the Equality Act and your employer will not be able to discriminate against you.
There are some things that are worth considering when you are deciding if you should disclose your disability:
- Will your disability/health condition affect your ability to fully participate in the recruitment process, for example if there are any tests as part of the interview?
- Will you need any adjustments to enable you to carry out the job that you have applied for?
- Are there any health & safety issues for you, your employer and your colleagues?
There are benefits to disclosing a disability to your employer. If there are any tests as part of the interview process or if you need support in the interview itself, disclosing a disability will enable you to have access to the relevant support and will allow you to demonstrate your full potential. Additionally, if you need any adjustments in the workplace or through Access to Work, it may be beneficial to disclose your disability to your employer. By disclosing a disability on your own terms, you can frame how it is discussed (e.g. focussing on positives and your own experiences).
When should I disclose a disability?
There are a number of opportunities during the recruitment process where you can disclose a disability. When you disclose may depend on your specific circumstances and requirements at different stages.
Your cover letter should focus on and highlight your relevant skills and experiences but is also an appropriate place to disclose a disability should you decide to tell your employer at this stage. It gives you an opportunity to positively describe previous achievements and experience, and how you have overcome challenges in the past. It may also be a useful way of explaining any health-related gaps in your education or work experience. Prospects have created an example letter to show how you can disclose a disability in a cover letter: https://www.prospects.ac.uk/careers-advice/cvs-and-cover-letters/cover-letters/example-of-how-to-disclose-a-disability-in-a-cover-letter
It may be pertinent at this point to make your potential employer aware of any accessibility requirements you may have, for example, your preferred method of communication.
On the Application Form
There may be a section on the application form which asks about health conditions or disabilities. It is up to you whether or not you disclose at this stage but it is important that you don’t provide false information. If you do not wish to disclose at this stage, leave this section blank.
You can also talk about your disability or health condition in your personal statement and highlight your strengths and positive experiences.
If you feel that you need any adjustments to make the interview accessible, you may wish to disclose any requirements before your interview to ensure that you can fully participate in the interview process. An employer may ask you about any specific requirements that you may have at this stage, and this may be an ideal opportunity to discuss your disability-related needs.
If you choose not to disclose any requirements prior to the interview and give sufficient notice, employers may be unable to arrange the required adjustments at short notice.
You can disclose at interview stage – you may be unable to conceal your disability at interview or you simply may feel happier discussing the impact of your disability or health condition in person. You can use this as an opportunity to discuss your disability in a positive manner and show your prospective employer how you have managed and overcome challenges throughout your time in education.
After Receiving a Job Offer
You may decide to disclose a disability once you have received a job offer or once you have started your job. It is up to you who you tell – you could tell your line manager or you may prefer to speak with Human Resources or Occupational Health.
It is also important to remember that once you have received a job offer, employers are able to ask about health and disability so that they can determine what reasonable adjustments may need to be put in place to make the workplace accessible.
During the Course of Employment
If you discover over time that you have underestimated your need for an adjustment, or if your condition changes or deteriorates over time, it is best to discuss this with your employer and ask for adjustments before your work performance is affected. You may at this stage be referred to an Occupational Health Adviser to discuss how they can support you further.
Can a future employer ask questions about disability/health conditions?
It is unlawful for an employer or representative to ask any applicant about health/disability unless and until they have been offered a job. There are some exceptions to this rule and employers can ask about health/disability:
- To find out if you can take part in an assessment to determine suitability for the job;
- To find out if any reasonable adjustments need to be made to allow you to participate in an assessment during the recruitment process;
- To find out whether you would be able to undertake a function that is intrinsic to the job;
- To monitor diversity among job applicants;
- To support ‘positive action’ in employment for disabled people;
- If there is an occupational requirement for the person to be disabled;
- Questions about health and disability are permitted for the purposes of vetting applicants for national security reasons.
Once a job offer is made, the employer is allowed to make this conditional on you meeting their stated health requirements and questions about health and disability can be asked. However, the employer must avoid making final decisions about awarding the job that would discriminate against disabled people; they cannot reject a candidate purely because they have declared a disability.
The UK Government have produced a guidance booklet on this which can be found here: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/employers-quick-start-guide-to-the-ban-on-questions-about-health-and-disability-during-recruitment.