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Employee disability disclosure and managerial prejudices in the return-to-work context

Zhanna Lyubykh (Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)
Nick Turner (Haskayne School of Business, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada)
Julian Barling (Smith School of Business, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada)
Tara C. Reich (King's Business School, King's College London, London, UK)
Samantha Batten (School of Policy Studies, Queen's University, Kingston, Canada)

Personnel Review

ISSN: 0048-3486

Article publication date: 30 July 2020

Issue publication date: 4 February 2021



This paper investigates the extent to which disability type contributes to differential evaluation of employees by managers. In particular, the authors examined managerial prejudice against 3 disability diagnoses (i.e. psychiatric, physical disability and pending diagnosis) compared to a control group in a return-to-work scenario.


Working managers (N = 238) were randomly assigned to 1 of 3 scenarios containing medical documentation for a fictional employee that disclosed either the employee's psychiatric disability, physical disability, or a pending diagnosis. The authors also collected a separate sample (N = 42) as a control group that received a version of the medical documentation but contained no information about the disability diagnosis.


Compared with employees without stated disabilities, employees with a psychiatric disability were evaluated as more aggressive toward other employees, less trustworthy and less committed to the organization. Compared to employees with either physical disabilities or pending diagnoses, employees with psychiatric disabilities were rated as less committed to the organization. The authors discuss implications for future research and the trade-offs inherent in disability labeling and disclosure.


The current study extends prior research by examining a broader range of outcomes (i.e. perceived aggressiveness, trustworthiness and commitment) and moving beyond performance evaluations of employees with disabilities. The authors also assess the relative status of a “pending diagnosis” category—a type of disclosure often encountered by managers in many jurisdictions as part of accommodating employees returning to work from medical-related absence.



We thank Matt Boczkowski, Jennifer Dimoff, Colette Hoption, Adrienne Olnick Kutzschan, and Robin Spires-Holmes for their assistance with and feedback at various stages of this research. We presented earlier versions of this research at the 8th International Conference on Work, Stress, and Health, San Juan, PR; the 12th International Conference on Occupational Stress on Work, Stress, and Health, Minneapolis, MN; and the 35th Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Austin, TX.Funding: The Canadian Centre for Advanced Leadership in Business and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada provided financial support for this research.


Lyubykh, Z., Turner, N., Barling, J., Reich, T.C. and Batten, S. (2021), "Employee disability disclosure and managerial prejudices in the return-to-work context", Personnel Review, Vol. 50 No. 2, pp. 770-788.



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