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I have decided to tell my employer that I'm ill: What should I say?

As an employee you have a responsbility to be a productive worker. When you are experiencing a mental disability, you may also have the right to accommodation under certain circumstances. By approaching your conversation with the employer as a way to find the balance between your responsibilities and your rights, you can work together to find a solution that strikes the right balance.

Preparing to talk about your problem, step-by-step
  1. Decide how you will describe your mental health problem or mental illness. The decision about how specific you want or need to be is yours. If you feel it is in your best interest to say more about your mental illness, do so; otherwise, you can speak in general terms. One organization has suggested some examples of language you may choose to use. 1 2

  • General terms: a disability, a medical condition, an illness

  • Vague but more specific terms: a biochemical imbalance, a neurological problem, a brain disorder

  • Specifically referring to mental illness: a mental illness, a mental health problem, a mental disorder, a psychiatric disorder, a psychiatric disability, an anxiety disorder

  • Your diagnosis: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder, panic disorder

  1. Provide your employer with brochures or other basic information about mental illness. Often people don’t know how to deal with mental illness because they do not know very much about it. Understanding the illness may make your employer more comfortable. You can get more information about mental health and mental illness from the Canadian Mental Health Association or the Canadian Council on Rehabilitation and Work.

  2. Explain how your mental illness affects you in terms of doing your job. If you require accommodation, tell your employer what you will need to continue to do the job. If the mental health problem doesn’t affect your ability to do the job at all, tell your employer that. You could also tell your employer about specific behaviours related to your illness, and what they can do to help you. This may be a good way to ease their concerns; you might say, “I tend to get anxious when there’s a lot of noise or people hanging around my desk, but I find that a short walk gets me re-focused.”

  3. Remind your employer of your skills and strengths in doing your job.

  4. Let your employer know the best way to approach you with concerns; in particular, how it’s best for you to receive criticisms or performance management directives.

Employers often share that they are so afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, that they do nothing at all when they see an employee struggling. In these cases, the managers may be concerned about invading your privacy, violating your human rights, or making things worse for you. You can help this situation by opening up the conversation and being focused on the solutions or accommodations that can help you do well at work.

Sometimes employers misunderstand what they see and assume the employee has a bad attitude or is intentionally being difficult. In these cases they may feel that discipline is necessary because they have no other explanation. Help your employer to understand what behaviour is part of your illness, what could be changed in the workplace to help you manage better, and what you are willing to do to improve the situation.

Example: what you might say

One organization has suggested the following prepared script, which you can adapt to your own circumstances:3

“I have (preferred term for psychiatric disability) that I am recovering from. I can still do the things that are required by my job (or if there are limitations, I may have difficulty doing a specific part of my job). It helps if I have (name the specific accommodations you need). I work best when (other accommodations).”

You could also add the following information:

“Sometimes you might see (symptoms or behaviours associated with symptoms). When you see that, you can (name the action steps for the employer). If you are concerned about me, you can call (contact name: your spouse/partner, advocate, therapist, or someone else you trust to help you).”

  • “Disclosing Your Disability to an Employer.” Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University.Retrieved August 8, 2005, from

  1. The steps on this page were adapted from recommendations by The Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. See “Disclosing Your Disability to an Employer.” Retrieved August 8, 2005,

  2. “Disclosing Your Disability to an Employer.” Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from

  3. “Disclosing Your Disability to an Employer.” Center for Psychiatric Rehabilitation at Boston University. Retrieved August 8, 2005, from

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