Only you can decide whether and how much to tell your employer about your psychiatric or mental health condition. Telling your employer about your diagnosis is the only way to protect your legal right to any accommodations you might need to get or keep a job. However, revealing your disability may subject you to discrimination which could limit your opportunities for employment and advancement.
Disclosure is a complex decision and should be made with care. Here’s what you might want to think about:
Preparing to Disclose
1. Determine whether you need help from your therapist or a mental health agency to:
- Initiate contact or arranging an interview with the employer
- Interview for a job
- Describe your disability
- Negotiate the terms of employment
- Negotiate accommodations
2. Identify any potential accommodations you might need during the hiring process or on your first day of work. Accommodations are changes in the work tasks or environment that can help you overcome any limitations imposed by your condition.
3. Explore your feelings about having a psychiatric or mental health condition and about whether you wish to share that information with others. Remember, no one can force you to disclose if you don’t want to.
4. Research potential employers’ attitudes toward psychiatric or mental health conditions, and, if you can, screen out unsupportive employers.
- Have they hired someone with a psychiatric disability before? What positive or negative experiences have they had in employing someone with a psychiatric or mental health condition? Do they show signs (on their website, in newsletters, posted notices, employee education programs about mental health issues, etc.) of encouraging a diverse workforce? Do they seem to have a corporate culture that favors flex time, mentoring programs, telecommuting, flexible benefit plans, and other programs that help employees work efficiently and well?
- Does the job have certain requirements (e.g., child care, high security, some government positions) that would put you at a disadvantage if you disclosed your diagnosis?
5. Weigh the benefits and risks of disclosure.
- Do you need to involve an outside agency to get or keep the job? Do you need accommodation or other employer support? When will you need this accommodation? Do other people in the company need similar accommodation?
- How stressful will it be for you to hide your disability?
6. If you decide not to disclose, find other ways to get the support you need.
- Behind-the-scenes support from friends, therapists, etc.
- Research potential employers who provide these supports to all employees.
7. If you decide to disclose, plan in advance how you’ll handle it.
- Who will say it (you, your therapist, your job coach, etc.) What to say (see below) When to say it. Under the ADA, a person with a disability can choose to disclose at any time, and is not required to disclose at all unless he or she wants to request an accommodation or wants other protection under the law. Someone with a disability can disclose at any of these times:
- Before the hiring interview
- During the interview
- After the interview, but before any job offer
- After a job offer, but before starting a job
- Any time after beginning a job
If you are already employed and are experiencing difficulty because of your condition, we recommend disclosing sometime before serious problems arise on the job. It is unlikely that you would be protected under the ADA if you disclosed right before you were about to get fired because of problems with your job performance. Employers are most likely to be responsive to a disclosure if they think it is done in good faith, and not as a last-ditch effort to keep your job.
- Who to tell
- Your supervisor or manager, if he or she must provide or approve an accommodation The EEO/Affirmative Action officer or Human Resources staff, if no immediate accommodation is needed, but you would like the protection of the ADA The person interviewing you or Human Resources staff, if you might need accommodation during the hiring process
- The Employee Assistance Program staff, if you are already on the job, experiencing difficulties, and need help deciding how, how much, and to whom to disclose
When You Disclose
- Decide how specific you will be in describing your psychiatric or mental health condition:
- General terms: a disability, a medical condition, an illness. Vague but more specific terms: a biochemical imbalance, a neurological problem, a brain disorder, difficulty with stress Specifically referring to mental health condition: a psychiatric disorder, mental disability
- Your exact diagnosis: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, anxiety disorder
- Describe the skills you have that make you able to perform the main duties of the job
- qualifications technical skills
- general work skills
- Describe any functional limitations or behaviors caused by your disability which interfere with your performance
- Identify the accommodations you need to overcome those functional limitations or behaviors
- Optional: You may choose to describe the behaviors or symptoms the employer might observe and tell the employer what steps to take as a result.
- Point the employer to resources for further information, including:
- Professionals including an employment specialist, supported employment provider, rehabilitation counselor, job coach, primary care provider, psychiatrist, therapist, counselor, or social worker
- Job Accommodation Network
- ADA Disability and Business Technical Assistance Centers
You may find it helpful to prepare a script to read from. For example: “I have (preferred term for psychiatric or mental health condition) that I am recovering from. Currently, I can/have (the skills required) to do (the main duties) of the job, but sometimes (functional limitations) interfere with my ability to (duties you may have trouble performing). It helps if I have (name the specific accommodations you need). I work best when (other accommodations).” You could also add the following information: “Sometimes you might see (symptoms or behaviors associated with symptoms). When you see that, you can (name the action steps for the employer). Here is the number of my (employment specialist, doctor, therapist, previous employer, JAN, etc.) for any information that you might need about my ability to handle the job.”
NOTE: The information contained in these pages is for educational purposes only, and is not legal advice. Individuals should contact the appropriate legal resources for specific legal advice regarding their particular situations.