Disclosure at work can be a difficult decision even in the best of circumstances. Will it hurt my chances of advancement? Will it give me protection for the accommodations I need? Will it help others to know about my pain and fatigue? Though I wish that honesty really was the best policy, when it comes to disclosure privacy may be the best option.
Many questions are helpful to ask when making the initial decision. Will I be able to complete the essential functions of the job without some accommodations? What am I looking for and is disclosure the process to get me there? I consider the risk associated with sharing particular facts and feelings regarding my “disability”. How would I handle insensitive comments, silence and/or ignorance in the workplace? Am I able to receive the support that they offer me? When would be the best time to share and what specifically do I need them to know in order to succeed at my job? It can also be helpful to know a little about who you are disclosing to, as reactions are usually about their own experiences and circumstances, and less about your particular situation. The answers to these questions aren’t stagnant, they will vary depending upon my health, the duties assigned, my co-workers and other life circumstances.
Trust and effective communication are essential in the disclosure process with supervisors. If I am unable to articulate my pain and my needs, it is impossible for them to grasp its impact. Unfortunately, this isn’t always possible. When I first returned to work, I wasn’t really clear about my needs in a work environment, because it wasn’t an experience I had encountered yet in my illness. This lack of clarity, made my situation more complicated and created increased frustration. I am much more persistent when I trust someone and more willing to ask for feedback and verify the meaning of key statements. Without trust, it is difficult for me to feel safe especially when dealing with people in authority. Generally specific request are granted, where emotional support is less defined. However, emotional and practical support from a supervisor can make all the difference in the disclosure process.
The ADA provides protection for disclosures but can create fear with supervisors regarding potential law suits. I have found understanding the ADA is helpful in knowing my rights, as well as learning the language of the law. However, an argument with an employer about rights rarely results in a positive work environment. If disclosure is necessary (or apparent) it can be helpful to be clear about the specific request and why this is necessary for you to perform the essential functions of the job. The JAN Network is a helpful resource to learn more about the ADA and accommodations for specific disabilities. Being respectful, kind, clear and persistent will be aide in reducing the fears of the employer. Most requests are best done in person with a follow up e-mail, but this may not be necessary for simple request and/or if the relationship with the supervisor is strong. If an employer refuses or makes excuses it is important to keep accurate documentations in case further action is needed and/or desired.
The issues with disclosure are numerous and can’t be completely communicated in a simple blog. The most important thing about disclosure is regardless of the reaction of others at work, you have value in the workplace. Find supportive people within the work place and/or outside of the workplace to process with whether you choose to disclose or to maintain your privacy. Don’t give up. Look for the gold in your relationships, your periods of growth, moments of service, your strengths, and living out your values.