Best Practice: How to manage chronic health disclosures in the workplace


Best Practice: How to manage chronic health disclosures in the workplace

When an employee discloses a chronic physical or mental health condition at work it can be the beginning of a complex and sometimes fraught journey for both the staff member and your HR and management teams. There can be many reasons for a disclosure, and different conditions can have a variety of different impacts on individual work outcomes. Because of that uncertainty, it is common for workplaces to respond in less-than-ideal ways to these disclosures, which can have negative ethical and legal implications for your business.

Research shows that almost half of all Australians are living with some kind of chronic or long-term health condition. One in five are living with chronic pain and one in five adult Australians experienced some kind of mental health challenge in 2021. It is a virtual certainty that your business currently employs someone managing one or all of these conditions. Whether you know about it or not is most likely based on how well that management is going and how safe your employee feels to disclose to you as their employer.

You may fear the condition is materially impacting the employee’s ability to perform their job, or maybe you fear that may become the case. At the same time, you don’t want to discriminate against someone on the basis of a health diagnosis. It makes sense that employers are unsure of how best to proceed following a disclosure of this sort. The good news is there are some things you can do right now to ensure you’re set up to avoid some of the most common pitfalls.


It is really important to have a well-established and rehearsed policy in place for when these events occur. You don’t want to be caught off-guard, winging it in the room. Making sure your HR staff know how the company handles these kinds of events well in advance and that they have practiced responding to health disclosures to avoid careless, unthinking mistakes is very important.

People who are grappling with a chronic health challenge are often (understandably) emotional about it. Chronic conditions are often physically and mentally exhausting to battle. Add to that the stress brought on by uncertainty around how you will respond as their employer, and this situation is probably very emotionally charged for that person. Having a practiced kind and neutral response is really helpful in removing some of that tension from the room.


It is understandable that you want to know how this disclosure is going to impact on the employee’s ability to complete work to deadline, or how accommodations might affect their availability or output. But there is a very hard line between, “Please tell me what changes you need to make to accommodate this condition” and personal or intrusive questioning about symptoms and so forth. Some people will feel more comfortable to discuss particulars and others will not. It is best to let the employee take the lead in terms of how much detail they choose to disclose.


Instead, ask questions that alleviate fear and show openness and supportiveness:

“What do you need to help you perform at your best?”

“Are there specific tasks that are currently not working for you (and can we find ways to change those processes)?”

“Are you currently experiencing any structural or physical barriers that we can alter or remove to help you in your work?”


Try to think about this as an opportunity. “Diversity” is not just the new, fashionable corporate buzzword, it adds real value to your business. Diverse firms are straight up more profitable than monocultural firms. We often focus on gender and cultural diversity in these conversations, but ability diversity is also really beneficial and a big part of any true diversity and inclusion program.

Research shows that ability diversity brings with it all the same benefits of other diversity programs – increased creativity, better community engagement, improved problem solving and productivity – but disability inclusion also brings with it an improvement to company morale. When people don’t feel they have to hide key parts of their life, staff feel more secure, are able to ask for what they really need to perform at their best and are more brand loyal leading to lower turnover.

Offering comprehensive wellbeing support services, and advertising this program effectively internally is a great first step in helping your staff to feel that important sense of support and security. If you would like to discuss options, reach out to a CU Health expert today and begin your organisation’s journey to becoming a wellbeing employer of choice.