As World Autism Awareness Week begins, Kathryn Fielder, senior associate in B P Collins’ employment team, focuses on how employers can make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to help autistic people, who are protected under the Equality Act.
The Office of National Statistics (ONS) recently published data which showed that just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment. Responding to the results, Jane Harris, Director of External Affairs at the National Autistic Society said: “…the figures show just how concerned the Government should be about the autism employment gap. Only just over 1 in 5 autistic adults are in work, despite our research showing the vast majority want to work.
“These figures should help the Government to…hold itself to account on improving employers’ autism understanding and support for autistic job seekers and employees.”
Kathryn Fielder, a senior lawyer in the employment team comments:
The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), which was subsequently incorporated into the Equality Act 2010, was introduced to provide similar levels of protection for the disabled – including those with autism – as had been previously provided for gender and ethnicity under the Sex Discrimination Act and Race Relations Act.
The Act introduced the concept of ‘reasonable adjustments’ in recruitment and employment, by imposing an obligation on employers to make adjustments in an attempt to level the playing field in the workplace.
Although the obligation starts with the recruitment process, frequently employers will not be aware that the candidate has autism, or at least not at the beginning of the process. Although there is no obligation on the employer to make anticipatory adjustments, lines can sometimes become blurred as to when an employer does become aware, and they can sometimes inadvertently find themselves in legal difficulties as a result.
Once made aware, example of adjustments at the interview stage might include, providing questions in advance, providing the names and photos of people interviewing plus a clear timetable of events and a quiet room to wait in before being interviewed.
However, an autistic applicant is under no obligation to disclose they have autism when applying for a job and many may actively seek to disguise it for fear that it will somehow act against them. If they are offered the post, employers can ask if they have a disability, but only for monitoring purposes and to help make reasonable adjustments in workplace.
Once employed, reasonable adjustments may include ensuring instructions to an autistic employees are provided in the way needed, providing a structured work environment, helping them prepare for any changes, as well as finding out about any sensory issues where they may benefit from noise cancelling headphones or a screen around their computer. It is also very important to educate other staff on autism to ensure they have a better understanding of any workplace issues which may arise.
Employers may be wary of an increased financial burden, but employees can seek support from the Access to Work scheme. This is government funding for disabled people to help with practical support in the workplace and which may mitigate some the potential issues which arise in such circumstances.
There is no one size fits all solution, so it’s vital to have a discussion with each individual to identify their specific needs and agree on how these could be accommodated. By making reasonable adjustments, employers could have access to many highly skilled, high qualified people, who would be an asset to the workplace.
To help avoid discrimination, B P Collins’ team of employment lawyers can advise employers on whether their procedures and policies are objective, focusing on work performance and the requirements of the job. We can also offer guidance on making reasonable adjustments to ensure all employees are able to work as efficiently as possible. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org or tel: 01753 889995 for further information.