Calgary Job Search Strategies Forum Report

The Good, The Bad and The Ugly of Disclosure

Watch streaming video of Simonne Walsh

Simonne Walsh, Champions Career Centre

Although disclosure seems to imply a secret, Simonne Walsh said it really is about whether a person wants to share information.

Employees have no legal obligation to disclose information to an employer unless it affects inherent or essential job requirements. Even then, the only information that is important to disclose is anything related to accommodations, such as those needed to ensure a fair and equitable selection process, how the disability may affect some aspects of the inherent job requirements, or any accommodations that might be needed to complete the work required.

It is also important to disclose anything that might be reasonably seen as a health and safety risk for others, as failing to do so could be a breach of the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

When disclosing a disability, job seekers and employees need not disclose medical information or any specifics related to the disability. They also have the right to confidentiality; any disclosed information cannot be shared without written consent. However, disclosing before being hired does not remove any responsibility to disclose to others or if further accommodations are needed after being hired.

In addition to providing reasonable accommodations, employers cannot discriminate directly or indirectly against a person based on a disability, and are also expected to avoid or prevent harassment directed towards the employee by others.

As a first step, Walsh suggested that job seekers create a disclosure plan, whether they plan to disclose or not. She warned that many factors beyond the job requirements could also influence the decision. For example, a visible disability might require disclosure while a non-visible disability might allow for some leeway.

Walsh said job seekers and employees might want to disclose for several reasons. Disclosing can create trust with an employer and allow for more effective discussion of accommodation needs. Any crisis that arises in relation to the disability will also be addressed more easily and openly. On the other hand nondisclosure in the same circumstances can be misread as poor work performance. There is also a risk that disclosing can lead to unnecessary curiosity or concern, and the stigmas associated with some disabilities might also affect job seekers.

If job seekers or employees choose to disclose, Walsh said the second step is to decide what information to share with an employer. Again, the only information that must be shared relates to any accommodations required to ensure a fair and equitable selection process, how the disability might affect inherent aspects of the job, and any accommodations that are needed to address this.

Next, job seekers should decide when to disclose, because different benefits and risks exist at each step in the job search process.

  • Disclosing prior to the interview allows for a frank conversation about accommodations (including those needed for a fair and equitable selection process) and eliminates any surprises or awkwardness at the interview.
  • Disclosing during the interview or after the offer of employment allows for job seekers to demonstrate evidence of their skills with a plan for dealing with accommodation needs.
  • Disclosing upon job commencement allows for accommodations to be made and increases the responsiveness of employers.

When disclosing to an employer, job seekers should be clear and open as to why they are disclosing and what their desired outcomes are, and should be knowledgeable about their disability and any accommodations needed. Walsh suggested that job seekers bring up the topic themselves if their disability is visible, to make the discussion easier for employers.

Walsh said many employers want to know because they are willing to make necessary accommodations to help employees work better, and it is better to disclose early if possible to those employers. Employers also want to be told the benefit of hiring someone and what is needed, and do not want to feel guilty or fearful when they are told about a disability.

Few people disclose mental illness because of misconceptions and stigmas, and Walsh reiterated that it is a personal choice to disclose such disabilities. Job seekers should brainstorm with someone they trust about the pros (trust, can address misconceptions, can address any issues quickly rather than it being seen as a poor job performance issue, etc.), and cons (stigmas, insensitivity, etc.) of disclosing.

“Be aware that some people may not respond in an accepting manner,” Walsh cautioned, noting that any concerns of disclosure that might arise during the disclosure process should be anticipated in advance, as should possible negative attitudes that might be encountered. Education of employers, whether through fact sheets or sensitivity training, can also be helpful.

In cases of discrimination, Walsh said it is important to keep a written record of any incidents and discuss the situation with the employer. If that is not satisfactory, the Alberta Human Rights and Citizenship Committee can get involved to help find solutions.