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To disclose or not to disclose…?

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In terms of disability, a common question from students is ‘should I disclose’? The answer to this question is not straightforward as it might first appear – despite legislation requiring that (with a few exceptions) employers treat applicants and employees equally regardless of disability, gender, age, race, religion or sexual orientation.

Deciding whether to share a protected characteristic such as a disability with an employer (usually described as ‘disclosure’ in employment terms) is a personal choice – there is no one right answer for everyone. In particular if a disability will have no impact on their job, a candidate might prefer not to share this information.

However, if an applicant is asked directly during the application process whether they have a disability or health condition, and give false information, then they may be liable for dismissal should their employer find out later on. You may also wish to share information about a disability if it has health and safety implications for yourself or your colleagues.

An increasing number of employers are going beyond the requirements of the law and are actively promoting diversity in the workplace, with schemes like  ‘Two Ticks: Positive about Disabled People  and some employers apparently utilising strengths commonly associated with certain disabilities. It can be advantageous in some cases to share information about a disability with an employer.

Despite steps to overcome discrimination however, it does of course still exist, to the extent that in the recent past one organisation tasked with supporting disabled people into the workplace has allegedly been derogatory about clients and high profile companies have been sued by employees for operating discriminatory practices against them.

Even the word ‘disclosure’ itself is controversial, with some disability support services favouring the expression ‘sharing’ because of the negative and secretive connation attached to the expression ‘to disclose’. It’s important then that applicants are aware of their rights and what they can do if they feel they have been discriminated against.

What are the benefits of sharing information with an employer about a disability?

In theory at least there can be several benefits of sharing information about a disability with an employer:

  • The applicant is covered by the Equality Act 2010
  • The employer must make any reasonable adjustments requested at interview or in the workplace
  • The applicant can control how the employer finds out about their disability and their impression of it
  • The applicant may be eligible for help from the Access to Work scheme

When should I share information about a disability?

It’s up to the applicant when they want to share this information, but it makes sense to consider practical considerations, such as any reasonable adjustments that might be needed for the next stage of the application process (such as physical adaptions, an interpreter or extra time in psychometric tests).

Sharing information about a disability at an interview can sometimes take the employer by surprise and means that they are unlikely to be able to make reasonable adjustments for that interview if any are required, but again this is the applicant’s choice.

Often a good place for applicants to share this information can be in a covering letter or application form, as this gives an opportunity to explain any potential implications of a disability. It may also aid an application to highlight specialist skills and qualities acquired and developed as a result of a disability.

Where can I find further resources on sharing information about a disability?

The following resources discuss sharing information about a disability with an employer, and offer advice on when and how to do this, if the applicant so chooses:

Claire Byron, AGCAS Disability Task Group, Newcastle University Careers Service.

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