When should you disclose your impairment to a potential employer?


Posted by The Mobility Superstore:

It’s the age-old question that millions of disabled people have had to grapple with over the years: When should people disclose an impairment or health condition to an employer? Disabled jobseekers often do an awful lot of soul-searching before deciding whether full disclosure is the right thing to do, but should this really be an issue?

In the spirit of honesty and transparency, it is only natural that most people will want to declare all of their impairments during the application process. However, commonly held misconceptions about disability could immediately put some people at a disadvantage (regardless of what the law says on the issue). So when should people make a full disclosure? And is there ever a reasonable case for withholding details.

The vast majority of online and paper job application forms now have an equal opportunities section, which usually contains a section about disability. According to the Equality and Human Rights Commission, employers are not permitted to make any selection decisions based on the information supplied in this section. Indeed, the official advice is for HR personnel to remove equal opportunities monitoring forms before they reach the people making the recruitment decisions. Nevertheless, disabled people with significant support needs can’t be blamed for worrying that such a disclosure would put them at an immediate disadvantage.

Whether or not to disclose an impairment during the initial stage of the recruitment process is an almost impossible question to answer. While the law is intended to vigorously promote equal rights for people living with disability, there are often practical concerns to consider. For instance, if interviews are to be held in a space that is inaccessible to wheelchairs, withholding information will not give recruiters the chance to make alternative arrangements. There may also be physical elements of the job that are not initially understood, and a candidate’s failure to declare a physical impairment could waste the time of the applicant and the employer.

The decision to withhold such information about is always a risky one. That being said, if a physical impairment doesn’t impede an applicant’s ability to carry out the job in question, some would argue that there is no need to disclose it. Moreover, to do so could lead to recruiters forming a biased impression about the candidate before an interview has taken place.

It is important to make the distinction between the selection process and an offer of employment. Candidates are not legally obliged to disclose disability-related information on application forms, but their contractual obligations could mandate such a disclosure should an offer of employment be made.

The essence of the Equality Act 2010 is to ensure equality throughout society, so any employer basing their recruitment decisions based solely on a person’s disability is unlawful. With this in mind, there is an argument for withholding the details at the very first stage of the process. Getting an interview will therefore be a reflection on the applicant’s ability to do the job – and nothing else. The interview itself should then represent an opportunity to discuss a disability in context.

The decision to disclose information on a disability during the job application process is one for the individual, and it may be influenced by a range of different factors. Whether or not the employer has an equal opportunities policy, the company’s reputation for equality and the specifics of the applicant’s impairment will all play their part.

Employers can only turn down a job application based on disability if it makes carrying out the duties involved a practical impossibility. But employers must be willing to make “reasonable adjustments” to the workplace.

Modifications such as installing a wheelchair ramp, providing flexible working hours and the provision of audio-visual aids could be deemed as “reasonable”, so it’s important that applicants follow up unsuccessful applications by requesting feedback. In some cases, illegal discrimination could be the basis of the decision.

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