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THE QUESTION

I have an invisible disability that does not hinder my ability to do a job. It has social implications, though. It is Asperger syndrome [AS], now known as high-functioning autism.

Some employers might equate Asperger syndrome with Sheldon Cooper from the TV show Big Bang Theory, but we are not all the same. People with AS have genuine difficulty reading body language, especially sarcasm. It also comes with some mild visual-processing issues that do not affect the job but sometimes make me look a bit strange or slow.

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AS does not impinge on me looking the part for an interview and it does not lower my intelligence. For a short time, acting the part is no problem. But after a while, the act gives way and causes difficulties. In shadowy ways, AS has always played a part in me not being rehired.

How do I disclose this? I am employed full-time and have been for a few years, doing a job for which my AS makes me well-suited. But I am ready to try something new. The last time I disclosed my disability, social difficulties built up. Is the interview a good place to do that?

THE FIRST ANSWER

Daniel Lublin

Employment lawyer, Whitten & Lublin, Toronto

You do not need to disclose that you have either an illness or disability to a prospective employer during an interview, especially if it will not directly affect the performance of your job. Human rights legislation forbids employers from making hiring decisions based strictly on an illness or disability, but many will do so anyway under false pretenses. For this reason, unless your disability prevents you from performing the essential conditions of the job, it need not be disclosed.

Even during your employment, employers are not allowed to discriminate against you based on an illness or disability unless it would interfere with a bona fide and essential condition of the job. Since your disability does not hinder your ability to complete your work, there is no requirement to disclose it.

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If you have difficulty interacting with colleagues or performing aspects of your work, you should speak with your doctor to determine whether there are any workplace modifications or forms of accommodation that your employer can provide, such as more flexible scheduling or adjusted work standards. Employers have an obligation to accommodate illnesses and disabilities, but it's a two-way street. If you need accommodation, your employer is entitled to some medical information. This should be provided by your doctor in writing, and he or she should be careful to disclose only what is necessary for your employer to better accommodate you.

THE SECOND ANSWER

Marc-Etienne Julien

President of Randstad Canada, Montreal

Everyone has their strengths and weaknesses and one of yours is that you've identified your own. You have found a profession you enjoy, in a field where you excel but it sounds as though you fear that your disability is starting to limit your professional advancement.

If you plan to stay with your company, speak with human resources. Disclose that you have AS and outline how it affects you and how you perceive it to be affecting your interactions with your team. Then disclose it to your manager. Speak openly about the problems that may have occurred. This way, anything that might have been misinterpreted by your team won't negatively affect your performance reviews.

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If you are being interviewed for a position, you've impressed someone with your merits and experience, and you are under no obligation to disclose. Wait until after your probation period.

Got a burning issue at work? Need help navigating that mine field? Let our Nine To Five experts help solve your dilemma. E-mail your questions to ninetofive@globeandmail.com.

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