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Disclosing your disability

Looking for work is rarely an easy process for anyone, and if you have a disability you may face other issues in addition to those other job seekers encounter.

Many students and graduates ask us whether they should tell an employer that they're disabled or have a mental health issue, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurological conditions.

There is no clear-cut answer, so you must use your own judgement, as the Equality Act 2010 doesn't explicitly say that you have to disclose a disability. The decisions you make about these issues will be personal to you, and there are advantages and drawbacks associated with each choice.

What an employer can ask

You may be asked whether you have a health condition or disability early on in the recruitment process. The Equality Act 2010 places some limits on questions an employer can ask about this. These limits apply up to the point where you are offered a job or placed in a pool of people to be offered a job.

Before this, you can only be asked about your health or disability:

  • to find out whether you can take part in an assessment
  • to decide if they need to make reasonable adjustments for you during an interview or test
  • to decide if you can complete a task that is an essential part of the work
  • to monitor diversity among people applying for their jobs
  • if they want to increase the number of disabled people they employ
  • if it is a requirement of the job that you have a disability
  • for the purposes of national security checks.

How and where to disclose

You need to decide if you're happy to disclose at the outset ie when you complete a CV or application form, or whether you would prefer to see how your applications go and disclose at or prior to an interview.

However you decide to disclose, provide factual information related to your ability to do the job, but not complicated medical terminology – you know what your health situation or disability means and how it affects you, others may not.

You might like to work out a strategy in advance about how and when you'll do this, how much and to whom in order to keep some control of the process. You could also obtain a supportive letter from a relevant health professional.

The cover letter is the most appropriate place to mention a disability or give any health information which you feel is pertinent to your application.

Make sure you highlight any particular achievements eg successful past employment or voluntary work and give positive examples of how you have met your challenges in the past.

"My enthusiasm and determination can be demonstrated by my voluntary work. As a member of the National Diabetic Association, I help to raise funds to increase awareness. Having diabetes and achieving high academic grades, working part time throughout my studies and raising large amounts of money through organising sponsored events, has developed my flexibility and ability to meet targets and manage my work effectively."

Explaining a gap in your CV

If you want to explain a gap in your education or work experience that the result of a health condition, then you only need to provide the bare details. It will be helpful to prospective employers if you clarify whether the condition is ongoing or will require any workplace adaptations, for example:

"I was treated for cancer for 10 months from June 2000 to March 2001 and was unable to work during this period. I was given the ‘all clear’ in 2005."

There may be a section on the form that asks about any serious health conditions or disabilities. You need to decide whether you are happy for your disability to feature here. You can also use the supporting statement or competence-based questions to highlight any strengths or positive consequences of your disability.

Remember that it is much more of an achievement to get a degree in three years if you have myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), for example, than if you don’t.

If you're invited for an interview and need practical support, you'll need to get in contact with the employer in advance to enable them to make suitable arrangements. This may be a good time to instigate a brief discussion around your disability.

At an assessment centre

If you're asked to take part in assessment centre activities, you may need to complete written exercises or psychometric tests. By disclosing your disability to the employer well in advance, you may be given extra time or be allowed to take these tests in a different room.

Be prepared for questions

It may be that you will not be able to conceal your disability at an interview. In any interview you need to be relaxed and present yourself in a positive manner and this is particularly important if you feel the interviewer has little experience of your particular disability and is feeling anxious because of this. You may need to take the initiative in acknowledging this and introduce what you feel are the relevant issues in this context.

Be prepared for the interviewer to ask you questions about your disability and to make suggestions about what adjustments you would need to carry out the job effectively. Take along any useful literature about funding or sources of information an employer could follow up if you feel this would be useful. Don’t let your health or disability become the focus of the interview.

Accentuate the positive

Be very positive about your skills and abilities – don’t allow room for doubts in the mind of the interviewer. Try to anticipate the interviewer’s anxieties and address these.

Job seeking can be a frustrating business for everyone and sometimes it is tempting to use the interview as a chance to air past grievances. Employers will want you to be positive and enthusiastic so concentrate on achievement and skills. If you time the declaration of your disability, this will give you more control over the way it is seen by the employer.

If you disclose your disability at an interview, you have the opportunity to justify and explain why it would not prevent you from carrying out the job efficiently, and maybe even make you a more tolerant and understanding employee.

Once an employer makes you an offer, which may depend upon you meeting certain health standards, they can make other enquiries about health or disability. For example, they might need to know about your disability so they can decide whether reasonable adjustments would enable you to do the job.

Employers can also make enquiries if you're successful and placed in a pool to be offered a job when one becomes available. However, the employer must not use information about your disability to discriminate against you because you're disabled.

If you're successful with your job application and are then asked questions about health or disability, you should be honest in your answers. If you sign a false declaration saying you don’t have a disability when you're disabled, this may have negative consequences later on.

If you think you've been treated unfairly

If, during the recruitment process, you're asked a question that you think is not allowed under the Equality Act 2010, you can tell the employer. Or you can tell the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC). The EHRC can then carry out an investigation or take other appropriate action.

If you feel you’ve been treated unfairly because of your disability, you can also make a complaint to an employment tribunal. A complaint must be logged within three months of the date on which you were treated unfairly.

The employment tribunal can decide whether your treatment was against the law. They can recommend whether the employer should take certain action, for example, offer to employ you or change its policy. They can also order the employer to pay you compensation.

Find out more

To learn more – or if you have a disability and you need reasonable adjustments to be made to attend any of our appointments or drop-ins or master classes – please contact us.

Careers and Employability