Disclosing an illness at work

Choosing if and when, as well as what, you disclose to an employer about chronic illness or disability can feel daunting. The important thing is it’s your choice – and, with this guide, you can feel prepared to approach that conversation with confidence

This is an edited version of an article that originally appeared on Happiful

Everyone deserves to feel safe and supported when disclosing a chronic illness or disability at work. However, it isn’t always easy to open up about a health condition to your employer, especially if you’re worried about how it might impact your opportunities or relationships in the workplace.

The decision to disclose an illness or disability is highly personal; here are some steps you can take to share your experience on your own terms, and feel more in control throughout this, often nerve-racking, process.

Know your rights

Telling your employer about your illness or disability can be daunting enough without the added fear of being disadvantaged by your disclosure so, it’s worth familiarising yourself with legislation on the subject.

Currently, it is against the law for employers to discriminate against you because of an illness or disability. This means that you are legally protected against unfair treatment, including in applications, interview arrangements, job offers, terms of employment – such as pay, promotion, transfer, and training opportunities – dismissal or redundancy, as well as discipline and grievances.

Under the Equality Act 2010, your employer is also required to make any ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace in order to support you. This could include flexible working hours, time off for treatment, adjustments to the nature of your work, or providing equipment to aid you with your job.

Hopefully, your employer is already aware of their duty to support you, and will receive your disclosure with understanding and recognition of their responsibility to you. If, however, you are worried about any potential unfair repercussions, knowing how you’re protected can ease some of this stress; you can at least be reassured that, should you be penalised at work because of your disclosure, the law is on your side.

Figure out when the timing is right

You might be considering not only whether to disclose an illness or disability, but also when. If applying for a new job, should you say something in your application? Should you wait until after you’ve been offered a role? If you’ve been in your current job for a while, but have recently been diagnosed, should you notify someone right away or wait and see how this impacts your work?

In most cases, letting your work know as soon as possible means that you can be given support right away. This is particularly important if you will need modifications in order to travel or take part in an interview, to carry out your job, or when it comes to taking time off work.

It’s also OK to take some time to come to terms with a diagnosis and monitor how your condition affects your work before having a conversation with your employer. You should never feel pressured to discuss anything until you’re ready. However, if you experience changes in your job performance or output, try to broach the subject before your manager is likely to notice, so that you maintain autonomy over the ‘when’ and ‘how’ of your disclosure.

Decide how much you feel comfortable sharing

You are not obligated to disclose any information that you do not feel comfortable sharing. With this in mind, it is worth considering how much or how little about your disability or illness you want to tell your employer and colleagues.

You might prefer to keep it simple and stick to the facts, communicating only your health needs without even necessarily disclosing your condition. Setting out a strictly ‘need to know’ policy can help keep in place any boundaries you would prefer to maintain when talking about your health at work.

However, if you feel comfortable, and it is safe for you to do so, you can also share more details about your experience, particularly from past scenarios that you have found challenging at work.

Set up a conversation

Draft an email to the relevant parties arranging a date and time to discuss your health. At this stage, you should decide who you are going to disclose to. While you’ll probably need to speak with a member of your employer’s human resources team, you may prefer to start with someone you work more closely with, and trust, someone who, perhaps, can help with adjustments to your work, and provide support.

Just ensure that the appropriate people at your workplace have been fully-informed about your requirements, so that you can continue to work happily and productively and are protected against potential employment discrimination.

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