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GC speaks to legal partners Linder Myers Solicitors about neurodiversity in the workplace

  • Monday, March 21, 2022
  • Posted By The Growth Company

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week, a worldwide initiative that aims to challenge some of the popular misconceptions and stereotypes around autism and learning disabilities.

According to Mencap, only 17% of all adults with a learning difficulty in the UK are in paid employment – this figure drops to 6% amongst those who have a learning difficulty and are known to their local authority. These stats are particularly shocking and suggest employers aren’t taking the necessary steps to make their hiring process inclusive to these individuals, or to promote their stance around Diversity and Inclusion within their local communities.

We spoke to Linder Myers Solicitors, one of the Growth Company’s legal partners to get their thoughts and insights on what legal duties employers have, and the steps they can take to make their recruitment and workforce practices more inclusive.  

What is my legal duty as an employer? 

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers are legally required to make reasonable adjustments for any employee – or potential employee – who has a disability (defined as: a physical or mental impairment that has a 'substantial' and 'long-term' adverse impact on an employee’s ability to do normal daily activities).  

A ‘reasonable adjustment’ is a change that must be made to remove or avoid a particular disadvantage relating to an employee’s disability when doing their job, or a potential candidate’s disability when applying for a job, during the recruitment process. You must consider making such adjustments under the following circumstances:

  • You know – or could be expected to know - that a member of staff or job applicant has a disability 
  • An employee or applicant specifically requests for adjustments to be made 
  • An employee is experiencing difficulties carrying out their role due to their disability 
  • An employee’s absence record, sickness record or delay in returning to work is linked to their disability  

What counts as reasonable?  

The next question many employers have is around how ‘reasonable’ is defined. This is notoriously difficult to pin down and the answer to that question is going to be very much dependent on the individual factual circumstances of the case. Consideration will always be given to an employer’s size and administrative resources when considering whether a particular adjustment is reasonable. The following can be used as a checklist when assessing what’s reasonable and what isn’t: 

  • Are the adjustments practical (i.e. can it be achieved without a material and genuine detriment to the business or organisation)? 
  • Is the adjustment affordable (the size and means of the organisation or employer in question is relevant)?  
  • Does it comply with health and safety regulations? 
  • Will it or is it likely to remove or reduce the disadvantage for the individual in question?  

The EHRC's Employment Code of Practice came into force in 2011 and is helpful in looking at what is reasonable. That Code suggests some 'factors which might be taken into account when deciding what a reasonable step for an employer to take is. Whether it is the employee or employer, obtaining early advice and guidance in these matters is very important.  

It is often the case that obtaining an Occupational Health Report will assist an employer with exploring reasonable adjustments once employment has commenced or when / if issues arise during employment.  

What are some examples of reasonable adjustments?  

Reasonable adjustments can be split into three categories: physical adjustments, changing working patterns, and support and training.  

Physical adjustments can include, but are not limited to:

  • Providing specially adapted equipment (i.e. auxiliary aids), such as screen readers, voice recognition software and orthopaedic chairs  
  • Making changes to the working environment, such as providing adjustable desks, widening entrances and using lightbulbs that mimic natural daylight.

Often in cases of autism, learning difficulties, or mental health disorders, changes to the working environment can be incredibly empowering to the individual. For example, removing sensory stimuli can make a huge difference to an autistic employee. You could move their desk to a quieter, darker area of the office, or encourage communication over email or instant messaging, rather than verbally. 

Changing Working Patterns: 

Changing work patterns isn’t as simple as letting employees pick and choose their working hours (although offering flexible working arrangements is one reasonable adjustment that you can make). Other things you could - and should - consider, are:

  • Adjusting a person’s role and responsibilities, or redeploying them to a whole new role altogether that’s better suited to their needs; 
  • Transferring some of their tasks to another colleague to lessen the pressure on them 
  • Allowing the employee to work from home, reducing the need for them to drive or use public transport (something which can be a highly stressful experience for people with autism or learning difficulties); 
  • Giving them the option to work compressed hours; 
  • Allowing them to switch from full-time to part-time hours; 
  • Allowing time for people to take medical appointments, treatment and rehabilitation (this is something that flexible working arrangements can support further with); 
  • Authorising a phased return to work for staff who have been off sick long-term due to their disability;  
  • Providing employees with learning difficulties with more time to complete tasks or projects 

If you’re interviewing someone with learning difficulties, particularly with a condition such as dyslexia, consider allowing them extra time [and/or some additional resource] to complete any tasks set as part of the recruitment process.  

Better still, you could consider a completely fresh approach to the interview, removing formal questions and assessments. Instead, why not invite a neurodiverse candidate in for a coffee (in a quiet, comfortable and private area) and simply get to know them and what makes them tick. They’re more likely to be at their best when they’re feeling relaxed and not being faced with unfamiliar questions or scenarios which cause stress and anxiety. This is something that we have heard first-hand from one of our autistic services users in GC Employment.

Even changing your expectations around dress code can have a positive impact on the individual and how they come across – allow them to wear casual clothes (or whatever they feel comfortable in), as opposed to wanting them to arrive in formal attire.  

Providing additional support and training: 

It’s natural that people with complex needs are going to need enhanced training and support to enable them to do their job to the very best of their ability. 

There are a number of adjustments you can make to ensure that those with learning difficulties are fully supported by their line manager and colleagues – these include: 

  • Providing an interpreter, reader or personal assistant; 
  • Providing enhanced supervision for the individual, if necessary;  
  • Offering additional training and support – not just for the individual with the disabilities, but also for other colleagues so they know how they can best support them in their role. 

Our stance at GC

Here at the Growth Company, we’re proud to have Disability Confident Level 3 (Leader), status, acting as a champion for the Disability Confident scheme amongst our business networks and within the local communities in which we operate.  

The impact-led services and contracts which we deliver across the Group – in geographies across the UK - also support people with complex needs in relation to learning difficulties, particularly within our Education & Skills and Employment divisions. Our teams work hard to break down the barriers that service users face when trying to find work, whilst working closely with employers to make sure any special needs that they have been met.  

Reaping the benefits of neurodivergent hires 

The benefits of a diverse and inclusive workforce are often shouted from the rooftops, with diversity bringing fresh perspectives, improved innovation and enhanced corporate social responsibility and business reputation, to name but a few.  

Hiring people with autism and learning difficulties specifically can have so many advantages. Autistic individuals are likely to be great problem-solvers and view situations in a brand new light. Other qualities these individuals often have are tenacity, attention to detail, reliability and fantastic technical abilities – such as in coding and programming (a sought-after skillet across many businesses!). Employing neurodivergent people can also improve retention and morale amongst your existing staff.  

To find out more about the Growth Company’s services and contracts designed to support diverse and inclusive workplaces, please explore the GC Business website here.

To hear from a neurodiverse business owner and find out his advice for employers who are looking to attract a more diverse range of candidates, read our recent interview with racer, serial entrepreneur and autism ambassador, Matty Street, here