Ask HR: Should I Tell My Boss About My ADD?

By Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP March 5, 2020
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SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP

SHRM President and CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., is answering HR questions as part of a series for USA TODAYThe questions are submitted by readers, and Taylor's answers below have been edited for length and clarity.

Do you have an HR or work-related question you'd like him to answer? Submit it here.

Question: Is Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) considered a disability? I am an adult recently diagnosed with ADD and I'm wondering if I can/should disclose my condition to my manager or HR. Before my diagnosis, my last performance review was not stellar, but l now have peace of mind knowing why some simple things have always been challenging. I want my manager to know that I am taking steps to manage my condition and improve my performance.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: I'm happy you sought and received the treatment you needed. I imagine living—and working—with undiagnosed ADD would be difficult.

First, know you are not alone. An estimated 4 percent of U.S. adults have ADHD, and 20 percent of them are undiagnosed or untreated. Even those who have been diagnosed often continue to face related challenges at work.

It might be uncomfortable. But, given this condition's impact on your work, I encourage you to talk to your manager about your diagnosis because it could be considered a disability. If you're uncomfortable talking to your manager, or if they're unresponsive or dismissive, then I would advise going directly to HR.

I recommend doing so because disabilities are considered on a case-by-case basis, and can fall under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) when it is not temporary in nature and impairs a person's major life functions.  If your ADD fits that description, then your employer likely has a duty, under either ADA or state disability-related laws, to try and provide a reasonable accommodation.

When you talk to your manager (or HR), be sure to discuss accommodations that would help you to best manage your condition. This might mean getting a head start on projects, providing a quiet environment, or scheduling consistent check-ins with your manager to keep you on track.

If you're not sure, though, your provider may be able to help your employer understand how ADD affects you at work. They could make suggestions, with your input, on what types of accommodations might be best to make the workplace work with you, rather than against you.

Above all, don't be afraid to ask and communicate. Most employers want to help their employees be successful by removing barriers that impede their performance.

Question: Last week, I saw one of my direct reports bullying another employee, and I didn't know how hard to come down on the bully. I don't want to let it go, but I don't want to create a major problem in the office either. What's the best approach? – Anonymous

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.: Bullying in the workplace is never acceptable and should be addressed anytime it is witnessed.

As a manager, your instinct to act is correct because it's up to you hold employees accountable and set workplace culture. When it comes to bullying, this is simply not the culture you want because it impacts people and the business bottom line. It hurts morale, productivity and engagement, which can create a vicious cycle that produces a culture of toxicity.

That said, it sounds like you understand this. So, how can you handle the situation? Here's what I recommend:     

As a first step, I recommend checking your organization's policies to see if, and what, protocols exist for the bad behavior you observed. Typically, these make employees aware of the forms bullying takes (i.e. verbal, physical, symbolic, etc.) that it will not be tolerated by the employer, and lays out how violations will be handled.  

Then, apply your judgement to the specifics of the situation and the employees involved to determine how to proceed. Ideally, you should be the one to meet with your direct report one-on-one—especially if the behavior was less severe or a first offense.

If your organization has no policy, or if the bullying was particularly extreme or threatening, I would involve HR.

When you meet with your direct report:

  • Describe what you saw and ask if they were aware of it; 
  • Explain how this behavior harms both employees and the culture;   
  • Ask how they could have handled the situation differently; 
  • Provide acceptable examples on how to communicate in that scenario;
  • Reference your organization's policy, emphasizing your employer's stance and disciplinary consequences that could follow.

I understand it might be an uncomfortable conversation. But it is your responsibility: You were the witness and are the manager. By owning it, you'll earn respect (from the bully) and gratitude (from the bullied)—and make your workplace better in the process. 

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