Discussing your mental health and/or disability with an employer may seem daunting, and perhaps you’re worried that you may receive unfair treatment or discrimination because of it. Today, it’s important to remember that there are a large number of people in the exact same position and as such, many employers are making strides to become more inclusive for employees’ individual needs. But more on this later…
When does mental health become a disability?
Under the Equality Act 2010, mental health is defined as a disability if it has a long-term effect on your normal day-to-day activity. By extension, this may include activities common within the workplace, such as using computers or interacting with other people. Different mental and physical disabilities can affect people in various ways, and this can be particularly upsetting in the context of your workplace, but it’s nothing to be ashamed about, and it’s important to know that support is out there if you want it!
How can I access support?
Disclosing a disability to an employer is a personal choice and not required by law, but there are many reasons why you may want to consider being transparent about your mental health and disability needs. Employers are bound by law to make sure disabled individuals will be able to apply for their vacancies and cannot reject potential employees based on their disability. Another one of their duties to applicants is to ask if they require reasonable adjustments– changes they can make to remove or reduce disadvantages that could affect a disabled employee. These may include the implementation of frequent short breaks, or adjusting equipment within the workplace.
The government may also be able to provide you with financial support, should you find yourself needing specific services or requirements. The Access to Work scheme provides this support, sometimes along with your employer, but only if a disability has been disclosed.
Getting it out in the open may also relieve unnecessary stress on your part too, so you feel that you are being transparent with your employer, and that they can then be fully considerate and accommodating of your needs.
As mentioned before, employers at large are shifting their opinions to become more inclusive of those with disabilities. Initiatives such as Mindful Employer and the government’s Disability Confident Scheme provide employers with the help they need to support employees, create a more inclusive work environment, and to think differently about disability.
You do not have to limit yourself to “disabled-friendly” employers, as it’s important that you make your application based on the opportunities that match your skills, but it can bring about peace of mind to know that an employer has experience working with disabled employees. You can identify “disabled-friendly” employers in a number of ways, including looking for jobs that carry the Disability Confident or Positive About Disability symbols. These symbols show that employers have committed to supporting disabled employees. It’s also useful in most cases to check employers’ websites for their policy statements, to see what commitments and support systems are in place.
How exactly do I speak about my condition?
If you decide that you want to disclose your disability to your employer, you must firstly know that it’s fine and legal to disclose or not disclose your disability at any point of your employment, from the application process to years down the line already working. However, it’s wise to carefully consider how your quality of work could improve if you tell them early on. When you tell your employer, it’s important to remember that you are the expert of your own health; you should be open and honest to your employer so that they can offer the most appropriate support should you need it.
Know your rights- you are protected under the Equality Act 2010, take comfort and confidence in this!
Emphasise the positives aspects of your disability, and remember that you are applying for this vacancy because you are capable, skilled and enthusiastic to do so.
Resources such as the AGCAS Disability Task Group blog provided by Careers offers insights into handling disability within the workplace. Various different resources on the blog can help you prepare to disclose your condition.
If you’re unsure if or when to disclose you can discuss this in confidence with your Placement Coordinator or Careers Consultant.
On Thursday the 24th of November 2022, Careers is also hosting an online talk that will go into depth about your right to privacy and adjustments as a disabled employee. The talk will take place 2-3pm and can be booked via MyJobsOnline.
Contributed by Jasmine McQuade, Student Careers Ambassador