Many people are unaware that some disabilities are not visible. In fact, hidden disabilities at work are prevalent and can have a significant effect on daily living or work. Hiding a disability may not affect an employee’s job performance, but they may need special accommodations to perform the primary functions of their position. It is much easier for employees to keep their jobs than to find new ones. However, many would rather quit than request accommodations or modifications to be able to perform their current jobs properly. It is important to recognize that hidden disabilities at work may enable employees to qualify for another job with your company where they can perform the required duties with or without accommodations.
Disclosing Disabilities in the Workplace
The main reason for employees to disclose hidden disabilities at work is to request reasonable accommodations. A reasonable accommodation enables employees with disabilities to fulfill job duties comfortably. If they can satisfy the essential functions of the job without accommodations, they probably will not disclose a disability. However, awareness of and sensitivity to people with hidden disabilities at work will make them feel more comfortable disclosing their concerns to employers. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requires that, as the employer, you provide reasonable accommodation for all employees with disabilities, whether visible or hidden. Reasonable accommodations are determined on a case-by-case basis and can range from modifying equipment, job restructuring, or creating facilities that are wheelchair user accessible.
Understanding Accommodation Needs
In today’s workplace, if a disability is hidden or not visible, many people have trouble grasping the necessity for accommodation. In fact, some employees may view coworkers with hidden disabilities as receiving favoritism. A few examples of workplace accommodation include include allowing for paid or unpaid leave during periods of hospitalization, allowing for a self-paced workload, providing frequent guidance about job performance, modifying job responsibilities, flexible work hours, adjusting work hours to schedule appointments with a specialist, assigning an understanding supervisor, and providing easy access to supervision and support in the workplace. In some cases, accommodations may be as easy as providing a special chair, footstool, or adaptive telephone equipment to ensure the employee can hear. If there are performance issues, it’s crucial to begin a discussion with the employee as quickly as possible. Most employees with hidden disabilities at work do not want it to excuse performance on the job. They are as concerned or more with productivity and excellence as you.
When the ADA was over a passed a quarter of a century ago, both employers and employees alike mistakenly believed that the law was written solely to protect the rights of people with physical disabilities. However, that has never been the basis of the law. As an inclusive piece of legislation, the ADA also provides legal protections for Americans with hidden disabilities at work, including addiction and mental illness disorders. People with all disabilities, whether hidden or visible, are protected under the ADA. The largest percentage of individuals with disabilities in this country is actually those with hidden disabilities.
How the ADA Has Changed American Workplaces
Employers have to provide a reasonable accommodation within the workplace for any employee disclosing a disability. For example, if an employee discloses a disability that requires a screen reader for the computer, you need to accommodate the request and maintain confidentiality in the workplace. These may be something as an employer you haven’t considered, but for the employee with a disability, these are important civil rights. Before passing the ADA in 1990, any person with a disability was subject to discrimination in employment, for instance in public accommodations or telecommunications. Post-ADA, as individuals have become more comfortable allowing the law to protect them, people with disabilities are requesting the accommodations and assistance they need to be engaged members of the community and active members of the workforce.
Covering People with Hidden Disabilities
As an employer, it is crucial to understand what the ADA covers. It defines a disability as anything that considerably limits one or more principal life activity. Individuals with addiction and mental illness concerns are covered under the ADA if they are actively seeking treatment. While physical disabilities are usually more noticeable limitations, they aren’t the only varieties of disabilities. Hidden disabilities are just as valid as the physical ones. As you look for ways to understand the ADA law and discover hidden disabilities at work, the resources here on Mighty Recruiter can help you identify the best ways to do so.