“If placed on a Performance Improvement Plan, should I disclose my Attention Deficit Disorder?”

Question: I am being put on a Performance Improvement Plan (“PIP”). My job ratings are good, but my new manager is nit picking me on small things and communication.

A lot of the issues stem from the increased stress he is putting me under which exacerbates my ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder) that I was recently diagnosed with. I only have problems when under extreme stress. Should I tell my employer I have ADHD? Will it change anything?

Framingham, Massachusetts

Answer: Dear Steve:         

1. My view is that, whenever an employee is diagnosed as having a disability, he or she should report the diagnosis to his or her employer. Over my almost 30 years as an advocate for employees, I have had many clients with disabilities try to keep their disabilities secret from their employers. While the concern that this will be either embarassing, or will hurt the boss’s perception, is a valid one, almost every one of my clients who have not disclosed their disabilities to their employers have regretted not doing so.

Especially with disabilities that are not easily discernible, as with ADHD, color-blindness, and those without a sense of smell, an employee has no right to either (a) protection from disability discrimination, or (b) an accommodation to the disability, unless and until the employer is put on notice of the disability.   

2. First, it is possible that your new boss is wrongly interpreting your ADHD as sloppiness, laziness and/or disinterest. Without knowledge of your diagnosed ADHD, your new boss may be unknowingly discriminating against you. And, then, when he makes you feel greater anxiety and stress, he may think you are being immature in just acting more in the same fashion. Disclosing your doctor’s diagnosis may put an end to your new boss’s mistaken impressions.   

3. Second, you are entitled by federal law to a “reasonable accommodation” to your disability. The federal Americans with Disabilities Act (usually called the “ADA”) (a) protects disabled employees working in a company with 15 or more employees from disability discrimination, and (b) requires that employees with disabilities be provided a “reasonable accommodation” to those disabilities if requested. So, you have every right to request measures that are reasonably designed to make your work life more productive. I don’t know you or the details of your ADHD, but you might consider requesting accommodations such as these: (i) having your supervisor give you one or two assignments at a time, not 10 at a time; (ii) an agreement to alter either the manner or frequency of communications to, say, 10 a day, not  55 a day; (iii) arranging for regular communications sessions, say each Monday, Wednesday and Friday morning, and not at unexpected times. Of course, these are only examples of the kind of “reasonable accommodation” that might be requested.   

4. Please understand: in this context “disability” does not mean “unable to work,” but rather “capable of doing the  job, but requires some accommodation to do it.” I am certain you have at times heard that a certain person is disabled, and for this reason cannot work. In that sense of the word, “disability” means “unable to work.” In your context, “disability” means almost the opposite: “capable of doing the job, but in need of a reasonable accommodation to do it.”

Thank goodness our society has made the collective judgment, and then placed it into a law, that we are all in some ways “limited,” and those of us who are limited in a way that can be addressed by a reasonable accommodation on the job should have one. To lose out on the otherwise valuable skills, insights and loyalty of disabled people would be a shame for us all, disabled and non-disabled, alike.

There is no shame in not being perfect. In our home it is often said that “The only perfect people are perfect idiots.”

Steve, your second question is “Will it change anything?” I am sure it will, even if it is only to put your supervisor on notice that he is dealing with an employee who knows his legal rights, is not afraid to exercise those legal rights, and who has the inner courage to confront a problem situation in an intelligent, confident and professional manner. Those are no small things. 

Thanks for writing in. Consider sharing with others our blogsite, our YouTube videos, and our Model Letters with which you can learn to navigate and negotiate for yourself at work.  

Al Sklover

© 2011 Alan L. Sklover, All Rights Reserved.

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