What to consider when thinking about disclosing your diagnosis to your employer
For anyone who is considering whether or not to disclose a diagnosis of autism to an employer, there are bound to be a lot of questions.
In this Q&A session, we deal with some of the most common questions that people with autism have when making this important decision.
What does disclosure mean?
Disclosure is when you let your employer know that you have been diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum.
Individuals with autism in the workforce are very often faced with this choice of whether or not to disclose to their employer that they have a diagnosis. The decision is ultimately one that will be a reflection of a variety of circumstances and issues.
The most important point about disclosure is that it is a personal decision.
Why might disclosure be a difficult decision?
There is no question that deciding whether or not to disclose to your employer that you are on the spectrum is a difficult decision. There are many reasons why this is the case.
You may be worried that you will be discriminated against in the workplace, or denied promotion or advancement. You might also be concerned about the reactions of colleagues and managers, and how it might affect your relationships.
Every situation and scenario is different, and there is no standard approach. Disclosing may or may not be the right decision, depending on your job and workplace. Not everyone understands autism and so employers may be unsure about what it means.
The decision may be made easier for you, however, if you have a clear idea of what your purpose is in disclosing, and what your ideal outcomes would be.
Is there an obligation to disclose my diagnosis to my employer?
Disclosure is always a personal decision.
There is no legal obligation for you to disclose that you are on the spectrum. Under the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA), it is not essential to disclose medical or personal information. If you feel comfortable about disclosing and/or believe it is necessary for the job you are doing, then you are entitled to do so. However, you are not under any obligation to make a disclosure.
Is autism regarded as a disability?
Autism is a neurological developmental difference that can impact significantly on the lives of people on the spectrum. It can therefore be covered by the definition of disability in the Disability Discrimination Act (DDA). This Act makes it against the law to discriminate against a person because of their disability (although here are some limited exceptions and exemptions, relating to a person who cannot perform the inherent requirements of a job after reasonable adjustments have been made).
What are the reasons to disclose?
There are a number of reasons as to why you might choose to disclose your diagnosis to your employer.
- One reason is that you might need adjustments to be made to your workload so that you can tackle the tasks necessary for your job. There is an obligation for employers to put reasonable adjustments in place, but they will be unable to do so if unaware of your needs.
- You might want to make a disclosure to avoid being mislabelled or misunderstood by the people you work with.
- In some cases, you might find it desirable to make a disclosure in response to changes in your role or position which have highlighted issues related to your autism.
- Some individuals on the spectrum choose to disclose in order to find out more about, or to get access to, workplace support services.
- You might choose to disclose your diagnosis in order to act as an advocate in the workplace.
- Even if you don’t require any workplace adjustments to be made right now, you nevertheless may choose to make a disclosure so as to raise the possibility of future requirements.
What are the reasons not to disclose?
Deciding whether or not to disclose a diagnosis of autism with an employer is never an easy decision to make, and there are potentially a number of reasons why you might choose not to.
- You do not feel that being on the spectrum impacts on your ability to do your job.
- You don’t require any workplace adjustments to be made in order for you to perform your role.
- You might be concerned that being a person with autism will be used against you in some way, and that any difficulties you experience as a result of being on the spectrum will be seen as excuses rather than real issues.
- It might be that you feel uncomfortable discussing autism with people who you don’t know very well, or who are not family members.
- You are concerned about pre-conceptions your employer or colleagues may have about autism, and that you may begin to be treated differently.
- You might be worried that a disclosure will harm your chances of promotion or advancement.
- You might be concerned that your employer begins to focus too much on your autism rather than your abilities and performance in the role.
Can I change my mind?
If you choose not to disclose your diagnosis at a particular time, there is nothing to prevent you changing your mind at a later date, should circumstances change. You can reevaluate your decision depending on your personal and work circumstances at any time.
What responsibilities come with not disclosing?
If you decide not to disclose your diagnosis of autism to an employer, you should consider what this could entail in both the short and long term.
- You may not have an opportunity to negotiate any appropriate workplace adjustments that might enable you to perform more effectively in your role.
- Any issues related to being on the spectrum that impact on your job may be viewed simply as poor performance.
- You may not be in a position to be an advocate for autism in the workplace.
- If your autism is considered in some way to cause a health and safety risk for others, not disclosing that you are on the spectrum could be seen as a breach of employee obligation under the Occupational Health and Safety Act.
When is the right time to disclose?
As with all aspects of disclosure, when you choose to disclose to your employer is a personal decision.
- If you are starting in a new job and feel that your performance would benefit from some workplace adjustments, then a disclosure sooner rather than later might be helpful.
- If there are changes in the workplace, your workload, or your personal circumstances that are impacting on your performance, this may also be a suitable time to make a disclosure.
- You may have been unfairly assessed as performing poorly by an employer who is not aware that you are on the spectrum.
- It may also be the case that after you have worked for some time in a role, and you feel comfortable with your performance, your employer and your colleagues, you think that this is an appropriate time to make a disclosure. This might be because you have demonstrated that being on the spectrum has not impacted on your job performance, and are confident that the people you work with will not begin to view or treat you differently.
- There may be new support services that have been introduced, or of which you were unaware, and you feel that your workplace performance would benefit from access to these.
How and what should I disclose?
The way in which you disclose your autism diagnosis to your employer, and what you choose to disclose, will very much depend on your individual circumstances.
It will not usually be necessary to provide in-depth personal or medical information to your employer when you make a disclosure about autism. You should, however, frame any information that you decide to disclose in such a way that it is relevant to your job.
it is also helpful if you have a clear outcome in mind and that you are able to explain any needs that you might have. You should have a good understanding of what it is that you want to happen, framing your disclosure in terms that require an active response from the employer e.g., “Being on the spectrum means that I may require…”
In any discussions, you should also focus on your abilities and what you have done or are able to do well, rather than any perceived difficulties that may result from being on the spectrum e.g., “Being a person with autism means that I am good at…”
You might find that putting together a disclosure ‘script’ in advance is a helpful tool in achieving your aims.
Who should I disclose to?
It is important to identify in advance who in your organisation it would be appropriate to make your disclosure to. It may be your line manager, your supervisor, or the human resources department. Larger organisations may have specialist support services in place from whom you can get advice and guidance in this regard, or a close colleague may be able to advise you.
You might also be able to get advice from a union, or autism service providers and advocacy groups, as to the best person to meet with or speak to in your organisation.
In any case, the person in your organisation to whom you disclose should ideally be someone who is able to identify and implement any subsequent work related adjustments that may need to be made.
Does a disclosure impact on my rights at work?
The Disability Discrimination Act (DDA) means that all people in Australia have protections against discrimination in the workplace.
Therefore, your employer is obliged to make reasonable work-related adjustments that would enable you to perform the requirements of your job. The only exception to this is if these adjustments would cause hardship to the employer. Your workplace rights are not otherwise affected.
Any questions from your employer relating to workplace adjustments or any other requirements you may have must be both appropriate and respectful, and pertain only to the position or role.
Will my right to privacy be affected if I disclose?
Any information that you disclose to your employer about a diagnosis of autism is confidential and protected by state and federal privacy acts, as well as by the DDA.
Any details you disclose must be kept confidential and cannot be shared without your express permission. You have a right to know how and for what purpose your personal information is used by your employer or organisation, and this should be limited to the provision of work-related adjustments.
You retain the right to have any information that you disclose treated confidentially and with respect.