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Neurodiversity in the workplace

Employers are becoming increasingly aware of the competitive advantage and benefits to their businesses of having a neurodiverse workforce. In March 2022 a new forum, Neurodiversity in Business, was launched to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace: its founding members include AstraZeneca, Bank of England, Sky and Unilever. Other organisations, such as GCHQ, BAE and JP Morgan have put in place neurodiversity initiatives recognising the skills and qualities neurodiverse employees bring, for example, creative thinking, problem-solving, persistence and high motivation. However, there is still a lack of understanding amongst many employers about neurodiverse conditions and what workplace adjustments may be needed.

What is neurodiversity?

Most people are neurotypical which means that their brains function in the way that society expects. However, it is estimated that 15%-20% of adults in the UK are neurodivergent which means that their brain functions, learns and processes information in a different way.

Neurodiverse conditions

The most commonly known types of neurodiverse conditions are Autism, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Dyspraxia. We have set out below some indicative traits, but these will not apply to everyone and will manifest at different ends of a spectrum. It is also important to remember that people should not be stereotyped according to better known characteristics and to be aware that some people may have characteristics of more than one type of neurodiverse condition.

Why is neurodiversity in the workplace important?

Employers with a more inclusive workplace are more likely to have access to a pool of talent that may otherwise be overlooked. This helps to retain skilled staff, reduces recruitment costs and people feel safer and are more likely to disclose their neurodiversity at an early stage. In addition, many neurodivergent people bring a different perspective, creative ability and may have highly specialised skills.

Is being neurodivergent a disability?

Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. It is likely that being neurodivergent will amount to a disability, but employers should remember that a diagnosis is not required in order to be covered by the Equality Act. It is also important to note that neurodiversity exists on a spectrum and to consider the effect on an individual employee on a case-by-case basis.

However, many neurodivergent employees don’t tell their employer because of the stigma associated with being neurodivergent and a fear of being judged or discriminated against. Many hide or mask it and only inform their employer at a stage when problems arise, such as in a disciplinary or capability hearing.

There have been a number of tribunal decisions where the employer has been found to have discriminated against a neurodivergent employee by failing to make reasonable adjustments.

Supporting neurodiverse employees in the workplace

Many workplace adjustments are simple and inexpensive but make an enormous difference to a neurodivergent employee. Outlined below are some factors for employers to consider in supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, but they may also want to seek specialist advice from Occupational Health and/or specialist charities or foundations.

Recruitment

  • Be prepared to make changes to recruitment processes and ensure that any screening process does not discriminate against neurodiverse candidates e.g. providing interview questions in advance or giving extra time in an assessment test.
  • Ensure that job adverts and job descriptions are accessible to neurodiverse applicants.
  • Explicitly state that reasonable adjustments to the process are possible for those who need it.
  • Look at using specialist recruitment agencies and consider offering paid internships to increase representation of those with neurodiverse conditions.

In the workplace

  • Review policies and processes including setting out a list of possible adjustments for all disabilities.
  • Reduce distractions and obstacles in the workplace which can be an issue for neurodiverse employees.
  • Put in place one-to-one mentoring or a workplace buddy.
  • If disciplining or dismissing a neurodivergent employee always attempt to understand whether the employee’s condition or related medication has contributed to their misconduct, and if so, how.

Promoting neurodiversity awareness in the workplace

There are a number of ways employers can raise awareness of neurodiversity which include:

  • Highlighting the commitment to supporting neurodiversity and actions being undertaken to improve the workplace.
  • Providing readily available simple and useful information on different forms of neurodiversity.
  • Ensuring staff have the time and a safe, suitable environment to learn about and discuss neurodiversity.
  • Creating “neurodiversity champions” and a support network
  • Updating policies and guidance on disability to also refer to neurodiversity.
  • Encouraging neurodivergent senior managers and leaders to openly disclose and talk about it.
  • Sharing stories about successful neurodiverse role models and talking openly about reasonable adjustments that have been implemented in the workplace.
  • Taking part in ‘Neurodiversity week’ to raise awareness and start conversations.

Training managers on neurodiversity in the workplace

Employers should support managers with training opportunities to improve skills and knowledge by providing workshops or additional information on neurodiversity. In addition, Acas has guidance for managers on managing staff with neurodivergent conditions.

Our Expertise

We advise on all aspects of employment law including on neurodiversity and advice on ensuring your policies are inclusive. We use our exceptional breadth and depth of expertise to give clients personalised advice to help manage risks and resolve issues - this includes audits of your current processes and documentation as well as bespoke training tailored to your needs together with the use of our independent HR consultants as part of our comprehensive dispute resolution offering.

Please contact Michael Powner, or your usual Charles Russell Speechlys contact if you would like to get in touch.

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