Should You Tell Your Boss About Your ADHD?

Legal and professional considerations for adults with ADD who are seeking ADHD accommodations at work.

When You Should Disclose

The only good reason for disclosure is when your efforts at getting accommodations have failed. If you fear that you without an accommodating change or service, disclosure may be necessary.

One thing you should know: A ADHD diagnosis alone, does not entitle an employee to services and/or accommodations. You must disclose your documented diagnosis, and show that ADHD "substantially limits a major life activity"—in this case, your job. Formal requests for an accommodation must be made in writing, and the accommodation(s) you ask for shouldn't place an undue hardship on the operation of the employer's business. In order to seek protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), you need to show that you are otherwise qualified to perform the job, and the company you work for must have at least 15 employees.

Disclosure under these circumstances should be carefully thought through. What if you disclose your condition and the accommodations you seek are considered unreasonable and are not granted? The law states that an employer must try to make "reasonable accommodations," but employer and employee often disagree about what "reasonable" is.

One way to increase the odds of your getting an accommodation is to avoid the "perceived threat," which puts a company's executives and human resources on the defensive. If a boss hears the words "disability" and the "American Disabilities Act" in the same sentence, he or she will suspect that you'll be filing a lawsuit. To succeed on the job, you want your company working with you, not against you.

Let the boss or human resources know, nicely, that you need XYZ because you have ADD (a disability)—and that you would work more efficiently if you got XYZ. At this point, don't mention the ADA.

Preventive Disclosure

Some of my clients have used preventive disclosure when telling the boss about their condition. When setting up the meeting, ask if an ADHD coach may attend the meeting, to educate the boss about ADHD symptoms and to answer questions. I've found that preventive disclosure will increase the odds that your boss will see ADHD in a positive light.

One of my clients, an attorney, disclosed her ADHD, and then asked her boss if I could attend her performance review to answer questions about the condition. After our meeting, the boss agreed that she could move from a noisy cubicle to a smaller, quieter office, with a door, that was currently being used for storage. She had asked to use this space before, and her boss had denied her request. When I explained the causes and symptoms of ADD, the boss changed his mind and granted her the new office.

Legal Action

If your boss refuses to grant accommodations, are you willing to take your company to court? Those who have pursued this course, whether they won or lost, will tell you that litigation is expensive, time-consuming, and emotionally taxing. Before making a decision, seek advice and counsel from legal experts, and talk with someone who has gone through litigation. Most employees with ADHD would prefer to resign and look for another job rather than litigate with an intractable management.

I believe that no one should disclose his ADHD diagnosis unless it is absolutely necessary to do so. I'm lucky—in my line of work, I know that I won't be treated unfairly or discriminated against because of my ADD. If anything, it's an asset.

ADHD is still not widely understood or accepted in and outside of the workplace. But if we accept ourselves for who we are, we've got a good chance of being happy, no matter what challenges we face.

Winning Without Disclosing

One ADDitude reader, a paralegal, solved her problems at the workplace by meeting with her immediate supervisor. Anxiety over her poor performance caused her stress, and she knew she had to take action. Understandably, she did not want to divulge too much or disclose the reason for her poor performance, nor did she have to.

She admitted that she was having problems, and sought ideas from her supervisor to help her work smarter. In doing so, she demonstrated her intent to excel at her job and correct deficiencies. Nothing was said about her ADD. The feedback from the meeting enabled her to do a better job and relieved her anxiety. An unexpected benefit was being able to get a good night's sleep, which sharpened her concentration at work.

Common Workplace Accommodations

-- Flex time
-- Telecommuting
-- Voice recorder, for meetings
-- Noise-blocking headset or room dividers
-- Spell-check or grammar-check software
-- Training for new aspects of the job
-- Office with a door, or an enclosed workspace, to reduce distractions
-- Color-coded office supplies
-- Cubicle in a less busy / noisy area
-- Written instructions / e-mail reminders
-- Help / advice on breaking down large projects into smaller pieces
-- Timer / alarm
-- White noise machine
-- Printed cards with work procedures / instructions or workflow maps
-- Talking calculator
-- More frequent performance reviews / regular feedback
-- Daytimer or electronic planner
-- Short, frequent breaks
-- Mentor or job-coach assistance

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TAGS: ADHD and the Law, ADHD Accommodations, 504s, IEPs, Talking About ADD

 

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