MANAGEMENT'S RESPONSE TO DISCLOSURE
Having a disability or chronic health condition can sometimes affect a person’s ability to successfully perform their job and may require extra support, flexibility or a formal accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, people with disabilities make excellent employees and many disabilities have little or no impact on a person’s work performance.
When an employee has a disability that affects his/her ability to do the essential functions of his/her job, it is often helpful to talk with his/her director supervisor. Having an open, honest conversation, allows you and your employee to work together to find ways to meet his/her individual needs, the needs of your team and those of your company.
Of course, not every employee who has a disability, even when it impacts their ability to do the essential functions of their job, wishes to disclose this fact to a manager. For many, there is an assumption and/or concern that once a disability is made public, s/he will be treated unfairly when compared to coworkers without disabilities. This is especially true for employees who have invisible disabilities such as mental health conditions or learning disabilities which continue to carry significant stigma in our society. It is critical that your reaction and response to someone’s disclosure is professional at all times. At no time do you want to share your personal opinions, fears, concerns, shock or any other emotion that may impact the individual’s comfort with the dialogue. You also want to be sure to avoid asking questions that are personal in nature or too in-depth about the disability itself.
The challenge here is that it is up to the employee to initiate such a conversation. Even if you suspect that a disability is affecting someone’s attendance or job performance, you are legally not allowed to ask the employee if this is the case, even if your purpose in asking is to provide support. Instead, when discussing your concerns, you want to focus on the employee’s attendance or job performance problems while asking if there are any supports you can offer to address these problems. If and when an employee does disclose a disability or requests an accommodation under the ADA, you will need to respond to the disclosure or request in a timely manner.
Keep in mind, performance management for employees with a disability (whether disclosed or assumed) is really no different than performance management for other employees. The focus of the discussion should be on their ability to perform the essential functions of the job. Their “ability” includes things such as having the same access to training and development opportunities as their coworkers without disabilities.
Once your employee informs you of his/her disability there are important pieces of information to consider. They are: