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Disclosing Your Health Condition To Your Employer

How Should I Disclose My Health Condition?

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While there is no one single way to handle disclosure, the following is one possible method to consider. It is merely an example to give you ideas for how to create the scenario that works best for you.

  • Set up a meeting with the appropriate HR person in your company. Go as high up in the chain of command as you are comfortable going.
  • Before the meeting, prepare a letter which states your desire that both the meeting and the contents of the letter be kept confidential. Consider asking your doctor to write a letter identifying your diagnosis and stating that it does not affect your ability to do your job, or, if applicable, that you will need an accommodation to do your job, or that you will need medical leave.
  • At the start of the meeting, hand whatever letters you have to the individual with whom you meet.
  • Indicate your reason for the meeting. For example, "I would like to talk to you about an accommodation," "I may need some time off for treatment," or "I wanted to discuss this with you before talking to my supervisor."
    • Concentrate on the impact your treatments may have on your work. For instance, how much work time do you think you will miss?What accommodation do you need? Why?
    • Is it possible to reduce your hours, work from home or take some time off?
  • During the meeting, keep in mind that you want your employer on your side. Try not to create a situation where you become adversaries. Do not make threats.
  • Depending on your reason for disclosure, discuss what information, if any, might need to be relayed to others, such as an immediate supervisor. You and your employer should reach a mutual agreement on this matter.
  • It may also be helpful to tactfully let your employer know that you are aware of your rights under the law. This can be done both verbally and in your letter. For example, "I would really appreciate it if this information remain confidential as required by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)." This type of statement will remind your employer of the law if they already know about it, or prompt them to find out about your rights in case they don't know the law. On the other hand, "If anyone else finds out about this information, I'll sue you," is the type of statement that likely won't sit well with an employer.
  • If things do not go well during the meeting, do your best to prevent it from getting out of control. If all else fails, suggest that the meeting be continued at another time after both of you have a chance to think things over.
  • If the meeting goes well, at the end, thank the individual for his or her assistance.

At the very least:

Follow-up any oral disclosure with a letter. An employer will often be more attentive to written information as opposed to verbal information, and a letter or follow-up letter creates an important "paper trail" if needed. In the letter:

  • Confirm your understanding of the conversation.
  • Indicate your desire that your medical information remain confidential as required by law.

While the law does not specify how disclosure should be made, there is at least one case where disclosure resulted in the termination of an employee. The employee disclosed her cancer diagnosis to her immediate supervisor as a "friend." Unfortunately she was fired soon after. The employee filed a discrimination suit. The employer claimed that the employee was not entitled to legal protection because disclosure was not made in the context of requesting a job accommodation or medical leave of absence. While we hope that this type of scenario is rare, disclosing your diagnosis in writing can help to prevent this from happening to you.

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