How to Disclose a Disability to a Tennessee Employer
In the wake of a global pandemic, it’s no secret that public health in America is a major area of concern and contention. As more and more U.S. workers are left with no choice but to apply for disability benefits due to long COVID or related chronic illnesses, other disabled workers are already familiar with the challenges of securing reasonable accommodations and equal treatment in Tennessee workplaces.
Whether you’ve been disabled for most of your life or still adjusting to the recent onset of your disability, it’s crucial for workers to understand their employee rights to protect against disability discrimination and receive needed care and support to perform the essential functions of their jobs. In Tennessee, you must first disclose your disability to your employer before any reasonable accommodations may be granted—a daunting task for many workers.
When should Tennessee workers consider disclosing their disability (or not) to their employer? Keep reading to learn more about safeguarding your financial security as a disabled employee in Tennessee.
How Employment Laws Affect Disabled Workers in TN
When it comes to employment law and discrimination in the workplace, there are various state and federal laws in place to protect disabled employees, including:
Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)
The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) is the primary federal law governing the rights of disabled workers in the workplace. Enacted in 1990, the purpose of the ADA is to prohibit discrimination against employees with disabilities in various aspects of public life, including employment. In Tennessee, the ADA applies to employers and companies, including state and local governments, with a minimum of 15 employees.
The Tennessee Disability Act
In addition to the ADA, Tennessee has its own laws protecting disabled employees. The Tennessee Disability Act prohibits discrimination based on disability in both public and private sectors. These laws ensure that disabled individuals have equal employment opportunities and are entitled to reasonable accommodations in their workplace.
Requesting Reasonable Accommodations Under the ADA
Under the ADA, employers are prohibited from discriminating against qualified individuals with disabilities in all aspects of employment, including recruitment, hiring, promotions, training, job assignments, and termination.
The ADA defines a “disability” as a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Major life activities include tasks such as walking, seeing, hearing, speaking, breathing, and performing manual tasks. Employers have certain obligations under the ADA, including providing reasonable accommodations to qualifying individuals with disabilities.
A reasonable accommodation is best defined as a modification or adjustment to the work environment or job tasks that allows an individual with a disability to perform their job duties effectively. Examples of reasonable accommodations include making the workplace accessible, modifying work schedules, providing assistive technology or equipment, and adjusting policies or procedures.
Pros & Cons of Disclosing a Disability at Work
The decision to disclose a disability is personal and depends on various factors. Common pros of disclosing a disability to an employer include:
- Access to reasonable accommodations. By disclosing your disability, you can request reasonable accommodations to help you perform your job effectively.
- Legal protections. If your employer knows about your disability, you can benefit from certain legal protections under the ADA, including protection against disability-related discrimination in the workplace.
Somecommon cons of disability disclosure in Tennessee workplaces include:
- Potential discrimination. Despite legal protections, some people fear potential discrimination or stigma associated with their disability. It may be helpful to weigh the potential benefits and downsides of disclosure. How badly are reasonable accommodations required? Can the essential job functions be performed adequately without them? While discrimination at work is always unlawful, it can be difficult to cope with unfair stigmas or prejudices nonetheless.
- Privacy concerns. Some employees may not want to share personal health information at work for whatever reason—be it mistrust of their employer or the expectation of short-term employment.
When Should Employees Consider Disability Disclosure?
Basically, employees can benefit from disability disclosure if they require a reasonable accommodation to perform the essential functions of their job. Disclosure is also necessary if your disability could impact your safety or the safety of others at work.
Generally, disclosing a disability can be unnecessary for employees if their condition does not impair their ability to perform in their job role. In other words, if the disability in question doesn’t affect your job performance and no reasonable accommodations are needed, there may not be a legitimate reason to disclose the disability at all.
3 Steps to Secure Workplace Accommodations under the ADA
If you decide to disclose your disability, here are the steps you should take to secure reasonable accommodations:
- Prepare Your Request: Identify the specific accommodations you need. Be prepared to explain how these will help you perform your job duties effectively.
- Make a Formal Request: Submit your request in writing to your employer or human resources department. Include relevant details about your disability and the type of accommodations you are seeking.
- Provide Necessary Documentation: You may need to provide medical documentation confirming your disability and the need for the requested accommodations.
Remember, disclosing a disability is a personal decision. If you're unsure about the best course of action, consider seeking advice from a trusted advisor or an employment lawyer. Always know your rights and the protections available to you.
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