Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

By Chris Garner, below, MD of HR and Employment Law specialist, Avensure

There’s no doubt that neurodiversity is becoming more widely recognised and understood, with much greater awareness around what it means and what conditions like autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia entail. However, there is still work to be done to ensure that neurodiverse employees have the right support to allow them to fulfil their roles to the best of their ability.

A recent legal case, R Bryce v Sentry Consulting Ltd, is a cautionary tale for businesses that fail acknowledge the role neurodiversity plays in the workplace. The case was brought by security guard, Raymond Bryce, who suffers from dyslexia and Asperger’s Syndrome. Having arrived late for his shift on several occasions, he had been pulled aside by management. However, Bryce explained that his dyslexia made it difficult to wake up early, plan-ahead and read the time. Attempting to mitigate the issue, he suggested to his employer that a grace period of 15-20 minutes in the morning would be helpful. However, instead of working with him to find a suitable solution, the security company merely stopped assigning him shifts.

Bryce accused Sentry Consulting of failing to make reasonable adjustments to support his neurodiversity, leaving the business open to a discrimination claim. It was upheld by the employment tribunal, which found that his neurodiversity made it challenging for him to maintain the same timekeeping and organisation skills as a neurotypical person. Bryce is now in line for compensation, while Sentry must shoulder both a financial hit and reputational damage as a result of the high-profile case.

The ruling demonstrates the importance of having policies and procedures in place to support neurodivergent people at work. An employee’s neurodiversity could qualify as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 so it’s vital to ensure that staff are supported and not at risk of discrimination in order to safeguard against expensive, damaging legal action. People with disabilities and long-term health conditions, have certain rights and protections under the law and businesses must be prepared to make reasonable adjustments to guard against not only against discriminatory behaviour, but harassment and victimisation too.

The term ‘reasonable adjustment’ will vary depending on the needs of the individual, their role and the needs of the organisation, however there are several straightforward things companies can do to support neurodivergent workers. Those include flexibility around shift times and methods to help tackle any issues with focus, such as taking shorter breaks throughout the day and making sure that there are spaces to relax quietly during those times.

Communication can also be a real challenge for many neurodiverse people, so allowing them to work from home for some or all the week could be beneficial.  It’s really important to remember that all of these conditions we are talking about are completely unique to each person – while the law offers a guideline and a framework for policy, every employee and their needs should be assessed and supported independently.

Companies should take the time to audit their mission statements, vision documents and other policies to ensure that diversity and inclusivity is championed. Think about the culture within the business and whether it feels inclusive. Is it open and friendly? Would it allow neurodiverse people to be honest about any challenges they are experiencing and feel that they would be supported through those?

Also bear in mind that neurodiverse people are often impacted by their surroundings in a way that their neurotypical colleagues aren’t. Think about bright lights, loud noise and crowds and whether any of those factors can reasonably be mitigated. Again, flexibility is key, ensuring people are assigned an appropriate role and supported wherever possible in managing their condition day-to-day in the workplace.

There is a plethora of things businesses can do to support neurodiversity in the workplace, creating and nurturing a positive, friendly and inclusive culture. Investing time in ensuring that policies support neurodiverse employees will not only safeguard against legal challenges, but maintain a healthy bottom line.