Jake, who has been seeing me for therapy for some time, is sliding further into depression. He is struggling to get up in the morning, complete daily living tasks, and concentrate at work. Jake needs to take some mental health days off to stabilize his mood, but he’s unsure how his employer will handle his request.
Also working with me in therapy is Sarah, a person with a chronic illness who is unemployed but wants to work part-time to contribute to her family. She experiences unexpected pain and fatigue that can be debilitating, sometimes confining her to bed all day. Sarah isn’t sure if she should tell her potential employer in the interview about her condition, fearing she will not be hired.
Does either of these situations resonate with you due to a mental or physical diagnosis? Are you afraid to tell your employer about your condition out of fear you will be treated unfairly? If so, you are not alone. Many people with chronic conditions face this dilemma.
Should You Tell Your Employer?
How do you decide whether to tell your employer about your diagnosis? Certainly, there are risks to disclosing; you leave yourself vulnerable to those around you and risk being treated differently or unfairly. But there are dangers to not telling, too. If you don’t disclose your condition’s symptoms to your employer, you run the risk of being seen as incompetent or lazy at your job, which could lead to negative consequences. And if you don’t disclose important information, you may not be protected legally in the event of discrimination.
What are your rights, you ask? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protects you from any potential consequences and requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for anyone with a condition it defines as a “disability.”
Certainly, there are risks to disclosing; you leave yourself vulnerable to those around you and risk being treated differently or unfairly. But there are dangers to not telling, too.
The term “disability” is defined by the U.S. Department of Labor as:
- A physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
- A record of a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, or
- Being regarded as having a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities
Likewise, a mental health disability is “a mental impairment that substantially limits a major life activity.” Some common mental health conditions include depression, bipolar, posttraumatic stress (PTSD), obsessive compulsion (OCD), panic, and schizophrenia.
Common challenges include:
- Maintaining regular attendance
- Dealing with the change of starting a new job
- Nervousness about interacting with others
- Understanding how to manage time
- Organizing information
- Handling stress and emotions
- Maintaining focus
Ultimately, disclosing your disability to your employer is a personal decision. It might be helpful for you to find support in making this decision. Your choice to tell can change depending upon the situation and the need for an accommodation. If you decide to tell your employer about your condition, do so in a way that feels good for you; share as much as you think is necessary with those who need to know.
Note: To protect confidentiality, names in the preceding article were changed by the author.
- Tugend, A. (2014, November 14). Deciding whether to disclose mental disorders to the boss. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2014/11/15/your-money/disclosing-mental-disorders-at-work.html
- United States Department of Labor. (2016). Entering the World of Work: What Youth with Mental Health Needs Should Know About Accommodations. Retrieved from http://www.dol.gov/odep/pubs/fact/transitioning.htm
The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.