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Curtin University
People and Culture

Disclosure of Disability and Privacy

Is there a legal obligation for an employee to disclose their disability?

Disclosure of disability refers to an individual’s decision on whether they choose to advise a person or organisation of their disability.

There is no legal obligation for a staff member to disclose their disability, unless it is likely to affect their ability to meet the inherent requirements of the job, including their ability to work safely and ensure the safety of co-workers1. If a disability is disclosed, then every effort must be made by the manager/ supervisor, to make reasonable adjustments for the person with disability should any be required.  Where a disability is not disclosed, there is no obligation on the employer to make reasonable adjustments.

Visible Disabilities: For people with an obvious disability, disclosure is usually inevitable.  When disclosure occurs, it is important to treat the employee with respect and dignity, and refer to the person as opposed to the disability.

Non Visible Disability: Employees who have a disability that is not visible such as diabetes, schizophrenia or HIV, have greater choice as to whether or not they disclose their disability.  People have differing reasons for non disclosure of disability, it is often equated to a fear of negative consequences.


Disclosing disability information to other parties

Information provided by a staff member with a disability may be highly personal or sensitive in nature.  This information must be treated sensitively.  Personal information disclosed to University staff must not be shared with anyone, unless

a) authorised by the employee,

b) it is deemed that workplace accommodations are required to enable the staff member to fulfil the inherent requirements of their role, or

c) if the person with a disability or others around them will be placed at risk.

In the case of b) and c) above, information can only be shared with staff of the University,  who have a duty to receive such information as a result of their role.

For example, if a Curtin staff member advises a fellow staff member (such as their Human Resource Business Consultant or the Staff Disability Advisor) of their disability, and it is having an impact upon their work, or poses a risk to their health and safety or others around them, the staff member who receives this information is obliged to act on it.   The informed staff member must make contact with the person’s supervisor to discuss reasonable accommodations, to assist the person with a disability to perform the inherent requirements of their job.  Only the people who ‘need to know’ should be provided with information in regard to the person with a disability and only relevant information should be provided, in order to protect the staff member’s privacy.  When providing information to the supervisor, the supervisor does not necessarily need to have detailed information about the persons’ disability or diagnosis, more often only medical restrictions or recommendations are required to make workplace adjustments.
Once an employee has disclosed their disability to an employer, it is the employer’s responsibility by law, to consider reasonable and practicable work adjustments that may be required to accommodate the staff member’s disability. For this reason it is the duty of any employee who receives such information to pass it on to the relevant person in the organisation who can take the action required.

When a staff member discloses their disability, the University is entitled to request supporting documentation about their disability or medical condition but only for the purposes of assessing the ability of the person to perform the inherent requirements of the job, in order to provide reasonable adjustments.  At Curtin, all personal information relating to disability that is provided to the Staff Disability Advisor is stored securely to prevent its loss or misuse.

It is important to remember that there is a requirement by law to respect an employee’s right to privacy.  Failing to protect confidential personal information in relation to a person’s disability may involve or lead to discrimination in some circumstances.

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© Curtin University of Technology. Except as permitted by the Copyright Act 1968, this material may not be reproduced, stored or transmitted without the permission of the copyright owner. All enquiries must be directed to the  Curtin Staff Disability Advisor ext 9090. This material does not purport to constitute legal or professional advice.  Except to the extent mandated otherwise by legislation, Curtin University does not accept responsibility for the consequences of any reliance which may be placed on this material by any person.