Disclosing A Disability At Work? Know Your Rights

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It is always stressful seeking employment; however, another layer of stress is added, for those with disabilities, when it comes to making a decision on when and whether to disclose that disability to a prospective employer.

Although there is plenty of research that illustrates the potential benefits to an employer of having a diverse workforce that includes persons with disabilities, there are certainly many misconceptions that could stand in your way.

When trying to decide the best way to proceed, it is important to first know the laws and how they can protect you.

What are your rights, responsibilities and obligations?

First, take some time to review the Canadian Human Rights Commission website.

You will find on their site information on Duty to Accommodate, A Guide to Creating an Inclusive Workplace, and examples of past cases that are viewed as significant in forming and upholding the Canadian Human Rights Act.

The more you know and understand our laws, the more confident you will feel about what is acceptable and unacceptable behaviour on the part of employers. This will ensure that you know what your rights are and how you can work together with a prospective employer to protect them.

However, regardless of how many laws there are to protect us, we still need to use common sense, instinct and judgment when it comes to any topic that may leave us vulnerable to discrimination.

Thus, I encourage you to do research on prospective places of employment. Seek out companies that have a track record of hiring and supporting individuals with disabilities. Some may have company policies that promote and advocate for a more diverse and inclusive workplace. If you know this in advance, it may impact your decision on whether you disclose a disability and when. A great place to start is the list of Canada’s Top Diversity Employers.

Along the same lines, if you know another individual who has a disability and is working at a company that you are interested in, set up an informational interview to talk about his or her experiences and get some first-hand advice on how he or she handled the job application process and how he or she was treated during and after hiring.

If you have experience with disclosing a disability or hiring a person with a disability, please share your story with us in the comments section below.

Further references:

Myths About Hiring Persons With Disabilities (Government of New Brunswick): This article is targeted at employers to help them recognize and address myths and negative stereotypes that are often associated with hiring persons with disabilities. It is a great resource for strategies for addressing these concerns with employers, should they arise.

Disclosing Disabilities (University Affairs): This brief blog post opens the conversation about when and if to disclose a disability to a prospective or current employer. “Every option has pros and cons, and planning can help reduce the risk that your abilities will be misinterpreted.”

Duty to Accommodate Fact Sheet: This article, created by the Canadian Human Rights Commission, outlines and gives examples of an employers obligations when it comes to accommodating individuals with disabilities. Further, it also outlines the duty to ensure accessibility in the provision of service. “The duty to accommodate recognizes that true equality means respecting people’s different needs. Needs that must be accommodated could be related to a person’s gender, age, disability, family or marital status, ethnic or cultural origin, religion or any of the other human attributes identified in the two federal acts.”

Photo credit: mtsofan

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About the author

Clare Tattersall is the Manager of Career Development and Community Based Learning at Huron University College at Western University in London, Ont. She oversees the international exchange and internship programs, offers career counseling and development appointments and workshops, and has developed and implemented a co-curricular certificate in Leadership and Professional Development. Clare holds a Master’s degree in English Language and Literature and has over 10 years of experience in the communications sector and post-secondary administration.