How to manage neurodiversity in the workplace

How to manage neurodiversity in the workplace
Mel Stead
Mel SteadOptimal HR Services Limited

Posted: Fri 6th Oct 2023

In this blog, Matthew Brain, employment solicitor at Optimal HR Services, of which the managing director is Enterprise Nation adviser, Mel Stead, discusses neurodiversity and what responsibilities employers have to employees who identify as neurodivergent.

Neurodiversity refers to the various ways in which the brain receives, interprets and processes information and/or situations in different ways.

Those who identify as neurodivergent may have conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, Tourette's syndrome and various mental health conditions such as bipolar and OCD.

Despite neurodiverse individuals often having valuable and beneficial skills to offer in the workplace (for example, they typically display high attention to detail, passion, creativity, and have excellent memories), they often find it difficult to find and retain a job, achieve promotion and career development and are prone to being bullied and harassed at work.

What does the law say

Employers should be aware that a neurodiverse employee is likely to be regarded as 'disabled' under the Equality Act 2010, and therefore protected against unlawful discrimination, harassment, and/or victimisation on the basis of their condition.

The law also places an onus on employers to proactively explore and implement reasonable adjustments for that individual where their condition puts them at a substantial disadvantage at work.

Employment tribunal statistics reveal a significant upward trend in claims against employers from neurodivergent employees due to the failure to comply with applicable legal obligations.

Prudent employers will therefore adopt inclusive workplace policies and consider reasonable adjustments in every case of neurodivergence to not only demonstrate commitment to having a diverse, inclusive, and supported workforce but also to minimise the risk of legal claims if a protected employee's legal rights are infringed.

Recruitment considerations

Employers should bear in mind that those who are neurodivergent can experience issues even at the recruitment stage and consider making appropriate adjustments.

For example, keeping the wording and structure of advertisements simple, giving advance notice of any exercises an applicant may need to complete as part of the interview process, adjusting tests and the physical environment in which interviews take place to make them accessible, and allowing breaks where appropriate.

Language and communication

When employed, employers should encourage open communication with employees who may feel they are neurodivergent and are struggling in work as a result, and actively listen to any concerns that are raised.

Internal policies should encourage employees to disclose to their line manager or HR if they are experiencing issues at work because of any such condition and direct them to appropriate internal resources and any designated people within the business for support.

Employers should be mindful of the language used in policies and avoid any terms that may be viewed as disparaging and/or not suitable in the context of equality, diversity, and inclusion.

In order to effectively deal with these issues, employers should provide line managers with adequate training on difficulties neurodivergent employees may face at work and how to identify and best support neurodiversity.

Relevant resources

Mel Stead
Mel SteadOptimal HR Services Limited

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