Managing employees with neurodiversity needs

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace benefits everyone

This week is Neurodiversity Celebration Week. It’s a global initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. According to the latest research by City & Guilds, 32% of workers felt that they could not disclose their neurodivergent condition in the workplace, with 10% having been met with a poor response once they have done so.

While many businesses are now recognising the many talents and advantages of having employees who are neurodivergent, there continue to be concerns from employers about how to manage people with very specific neurodiversity needs.

So let’s take a look at that.

Managing people with neurodiversity needs does not mean that managers should treat those individuals differently; instead, managers should have meaningful and engaging conversations with those individuals and explore what additional support measures (if any) can be put in place to assist them. Under the Equality Act 2010, these measures are called “reasonable adjustments”.

Implementing reasonable adjustments

To understand what reasonable adjustments can be implemented, employers should consider referring employees to Occupational Health (OH) for an assessment. The reason is that a medical professional would be best suited to advise employers of what (if any) reasonable adjustments can be implemented.

Of course, there will be occasions when the organisation cannot implement the reasonable adjustments Occupational Health suggests. This may be due to the way the work is performed. For example, Occupational Health may recommend working from home and the office as a temporary measure for someone with neurodiversity. However, the role is entirely client-facing and cannot be performed remotely via Microsoft Teams or Zoom.

In those cases, the employer is not expected to implement the suggested reasonable adjustments regardless, to the detriment of their business. However, the employer is obliged to genuinely consider the adjustments and decide whether they can be reasonably and legitimately implemented. If they cannot be implemented, employers are encouraged to explore with the employee whether they have any other thoughts on what could be implemented to support them. Employers and employees should approach this discussion with an open mind – it’s very much a two-way street!

Conversations with employees with an undiagnosed condition

It is important to note that, generally speaking, an employer cannot force or compel their staff to disclose a disability. However, there are certain exceptions depending on the role. The employee may have a contractual obligation to make their employer aware of a condition which may affect their ability to undertake their role. For example, pilots are obliged to disclose any health conditions, physical or mental, as this may affect their ability to carry out their role safely.

If an employer suspects that a staff member might have an undiagnosed condition, it is perfectly acceptable for the employer to discuss this with the employee. The discussion does not need to be overly formal; an informal conversation would suffice. But, again, keeping an open mind, employers should be very clear in why they think the employee may have an undiagnosed condition and ask the employee if there is anything that they can perhaps do support the employee.

Of course, the employee may not be obliged to disclose this, but if they do, ensure you reassure that the employee is aware that the conversation will be kept on a need-to-know basis and not something that will be shared with everyone in the organisation. Explore what support they feel they could benefit from. If they do not choose to share this with you and there is no obligation for them to do so based upon the nature of their role, advise the employee that your door is always open should they wish to discuss anything in the future.

There is often a reluctance to share information like this with employers due to embarrassment or the feeling that a stigma is attached to those with neurodiversity needs. However, open and supportive conversations with your staff can help dispel this perception and reassure them that they have your support as an employer – should they need it.  

By Hussain Kayani, Principal Employment Law Solicitor at WorkNest

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