Neurodiversity In The Workplace Conference

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Neurodiversity In The Workplace Conference

Author: Adam McGlynn

Key Contact: Claire Knowles

Acuity Law’s Juliette Franklin is hosting a multidisciplinary event with an expert panel on 10th July 2024 at Cardiff’s Principality Stadium to share our expert advice about the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace and best practices for employers to consider.

To find out more about the event, or to sign up, please click here.

What is neurodiversity?

The term “neurodiversity” refers to various ways that the brain can work and interpret information.

Most people are neurotypical, meaning that the brain functions in the way society would expect. However, research has found that more than 15% of the UK’s population is neurodivergent.

Typical forms of neurodivergence include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyspraxia and dyslexia. Each of these will typically have a range of related characteristics but each individual may differ, and certain individuals may have the characteristics of more than one type of neurodivergence. Therefore, it is important not to make generalisations about individuals with particular forms of neurodivergence.

Benefits of a neurodiverse workforce

of people on the autism spectrum in the US are unemployed. In the UK, approximately 29% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed. This is despite evidence that there are benefits to a neurodiverse workforce.

Neurodiverse hires diversify an organisation’s talent pool and often possess unique and desirable skills. Whilst it is important not to generalise, research shows that staff with certain conditions, including autism and dyslexia, possess strong mathematical or pattern recognition abilities. A recent study of 127 employers and 990 neurodivergent employees by Birkbeck University of London’s Research Centre for Neurodiversity at Work reported a multitude of positive traits associated with neurodivergent employees including hyperfocus (highlighted by 80%), creativity (78%), innovative thinking (75%), and detail processing (71%).

A significant majority of the employers interviewed for the study (69%) stated that they struggled to make adjustments because neurodivergent colleagues often failed to disclose their conditions. This highlights the need to ensure that workplaces are open and supportive environments.  For example, employers could look to foster an open and transparent working relationship by championing diversity through events and employee recognition.

Neurodiversity, recruitment and workplace practices

On 28 February 2024, the Buckland Review of Autism Employment (“the Review”), published its findings setting out how employers can provide additional support for autistic people in employment. Some of the Review’s key recommendations included:

  • Encouraging career advancement by developing bespoke training for autistic staff members.
  • Ensure careers advisers can provide appropriate advice to autistic jobseekers and improve employment.
  • Working with software suppliers to develop IT systems that meet autistic people’s needs.

The Review can be accessed from the following link. It is a useful starting point when considering how employers could create an inclusive and neurodiverse friendly workplace and how to adapt your organisation to support autistic people in employment.

Whilst any potential changes within a workplace should be tailored to each business’s and employee’s circumstances, we have observed some general areas for businesses to address:

Flexible working policies, as some neurodivergent colleagues may prefer to work remotely.

Recruitment policies, as screening and selection processes may inadvertently discourage or exclude neurodivergent candidates.

Performance management practices, as it may be necessary to consider reasonable adjustments to support the employee before issuing performance sanctions.

Training, as communication, teamwork, and other soft skill training may develop staff generally, but also help them to better collaborate neurodivergent colleagues. Some organisations have begun to develop dedicated neurodiversity training, a trend supported by the Neurodiversity Index.

Mentorship schemes, as senior neurodivergent colleagues sharing their experiences can help newer hires integrate and overcome barriers in their career journey.

Technology, as some AI solutions can greatly assist neurodivergent colleagues, for example by summarising Teams meetings for those who struggle with note taking or gauging the tone of a conversation.

Neurodiversity and the law

There is no legal definition of neurodivergence at present, however, many forms of neurodiversity can be caught by the Equality Act 2010’s (“the EA”) definition of disability, depending on how they affect the employee’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

If the business is aware, or ought to be aware, that an employee or a job candidate is neurodiverse, it is good practice to document this and consider reasonable adjustments to accommodate their needs. Failure to do so could give rise to a claim of discrimination. However, only reasonable adjustments need to be considered, so employers do not need to comply with all requests, and factors like cost and practicability are relevant.

Employers must also remember that section 15 EA prohibits dismissing or treating an employee unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of their disability, such as a symptom, unless it is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim. This might trigger, for example, if an employee were dismissed for poor communication skills, but their disability affected their ability to engage in social situations. In this example, the employer would be expected to consider reasonable adjustments first and then re-evaluate on further review, bearing the test above in mind.

Finally, harassment has a specific legal meaning under the EA and means engaging in unwanted conduct relevant to a protected characteristic (such as disability) which has the intention or effect of either violating the neurodivergent individual’s dignity, or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment. Studies have shown that one in five neurodivergent employees have suffered harassment at work and this further demonstrates the importance of a robust anti-harassment policy and regular training for staff.

Conclusion

Overall, neurodiversity in the workplace can be an opportunity for employers and promote a more diverse, innovative, and productive workplace. However, there is still the potential for conflict in this area given that employment tribunal claims involving neurodiverse claimants have risen. According to recent analysis, in 2023 there were 278 Employment Tribunal judgments relating to disability discrimination which reference autism, ADHD, dyspraxia, or dyslexia across Great Britain.

If you would like to understand more about how your organisation can support neurodiverse employees then please feel free to come along to our event.

For any other employment-related queries then please feel free to contact the employment team at Acuity Law.

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