Sarah: Is there any advice you’d give for anyone who isn’t currently employed but is obviously trying to get a job, yeah, as to whether or not to disclose their disability beforehand, if it’s not a visible disability?
Rebecca Armstrong: Yes. It’s a really challenging question because you don’t know whether you’ve done the right thing until it’s too late. There’s no way of testing the water with it. So, what I always say to the employee, or the potential employee, is you have to make that decision for yourself.
I wouldn’t lead with it, so personally I wouldn’t lead with it, so it wouldn’t be the first thing I’d tell them when I sit down in the interview. So let your experience and let yourself shine through and if you are the best candidate for the position, you’ve then got a decision to make at the point of offer as to whether you disclose or whether you hold back, on the basis that you don’t need any adjustments, you don’t need them to do anything for you, so actually there’s nothing for them to really know, other than an underlying potential issue.
A lot of people who I work with on the employee side often disclose at the point of offer. So at that point the offer’s been made, so it’s very difficult for the employer to withdraw that offer on the basis of just having a disclosure of MS, that would correlate as discriminatory, potentially.
So at that point it feels like it’s a little bit safer to do that, but it also honours the desire for most people to walk into an employment relationship honestly and openly. On a personal level, so I have MS, I was diagnosed with MS, although I am self-employed, I have never hidden it.
And partly because I’m all over the internet talking about it, so it would be very hard to do that. But I have always been honest about having it and I have never had a problem personally, but I have supported people through the MS and work Facebook group that I run, whereby they have had a problem, and that’s why it’s hard because you don’t know if you’ve made the right decision until you’ve done it.
What kind of problems have they had?
What kind of problems? So, just where when they’ve disclosed to the employer upfront they haven’t got through to the next stage, they haven’t been successful getting the role. People who’ve gone through patterns of going for interviews and where they have disclosed they haven’t got the job and where they haven’t disclosed they have.
And of course some of that you’ll never know, because unless you take it to a tribunal case, there’s lots of variables. You know, there’s been instances where people have disclosed in early stages of employment where they’re on a probation and there’s been no particular performance issues, certainly nothing that’s been documented or fed back to them, but suddenly their probation is failed and it kind of again correlates to a disclosure.
So, you know, that does happen, but probably what I want to say is they are probably isolated cases as well. There are the other side of that where employers are just like, okay, and what do I need to know, and it’s fine, what do I need to know and how do I help you, and it’s not an issue at all.
Fundamentally, what employers want is somebody to come in and deliver a good job. And as long as you can do that and as long as you do that, then there shouldn’t be a problem with having any kind of disability, let alone MS, you know, any kind of disability. And yes, adjustments might be needed, but as long as you can deliver then that should just be everything that needs to be known.
Okay. Would you say that disclosure of MS to your employer affects in any way your future at that company? I know I was very paranoid about promotion prospects. Should I have told my employer, and I think in hindsight I did the right thing by not telling them.
What’s your experience of that?
It’s, it’s a little bit like the disclosure upfront conversation, you don’t really know you’ve done the right thing until you’ve done it.
Ultimately, if you work for an employer where there is discriminatory thinking, whether that’s obvious or not, so sometimes it’s unconscious bias where people don’t realise that they’ve shown that biased behaviour, and sometimes it’s hidden, so it’s not necessarily out there but it’s in the root of the organisation. If you’re working in one of those employers, then absolutely it can affect, it may well affect.
You know, employers will make up that somebody with a disability is less reliable, that they’re probably going to have more sickness, that they’re possibly going to sue them at some point.
You know, that they’re going to have more of a challenge with that person, and that isn’t the truth. That absolutely isn’t the truth. I work, not just with people with disability, I work with people who don’t have disability and absence levels can be significantly higher with somebody who doesn’t have an underlying medical condition to somebody who does. You know, so it’s not, it’s an assumption that isn’t true.
It’s a perception that they might have.
It is, it’s a complete perception of what they’ve got. So it depends on the mindset of the employer. So some employers will kind of go, okay, well you’ve been a great employee up until now, we have no performance issues, you’ve got the right behaviour, the right attitude, all of the things that they should be considering and thinking about promotion, so therefore why would having a medical condition be an issue.
Be a barrier.
I think it comes down to whether that organisation is, it comes down to those three categories I said at the beginning. So you’ve got the ones who embrace, that wouldn’t be an issue at all, the ones who don’t where it would be an issue, and then these people in the middle where perhaps they’d feel a bit nervous about it but would be open to and actually can be influenced in terms of understanding.