Autism in the Workplace: Reasonable Adjustments for Autistic Employees

Autism in the workplace shouldn’t be seen as a hindrance to a company’s success. The National Autistic Society (NAS) has outlined how employees with autism could benefit a company. They suggest that an autistic employee could, among other things, have above-average concentration levels, accuracy and factual knowledge.

Despite this, the NAS has previously claimed that less than 20% of autistic adults have full-time jobs. They have also stated that of the remaining individuals without work, four out of every five want a job. This highlights a deficiency of opportunities for adults with autism and a plethora of untapped potential for employers.

Below, we discuss what autism could look like in the workplace and how employers could spot employees with this disability. We also explore whether employees should disclose that they have autism and how employers could support those that do.

If you believe you’ve experienced disability discrimination because of your autism, contact Redmans Solicitors. We are experts in all areas of employment law and could advise you on your possible next steps.

What We Cover

  1. What Autism In The Workplace Looks Like
  2. Signs Of An Autistic Employee
  3. Should Employees Disclose Their Autism?
  4. Employee Support that Employers Must Consider

What Autism In The Workplace Looks Like

Sammy Roberts from Inclusion Gloucestershire has autism and wrote for the NHS earlier this year. She outlined what autism in the workplace could look like. This included some of the challenges employees face with autism, such as sensory overload. She explained that an autistic employee may struggle with open-planned offices and busy environments. This could include bright colours or noisy backgrounds, potentially leading to a significant mental health crisis.

Another factor she highlighted was how the energy levels of employees with autism may impact their day. She wrote that many autistic individuals measure their energy levels with ‘spoons’. She went on to say how she believed her spoons could be used most effectively in the mornings. 

This is because she felt most productive in the morning and travelled at quieter times, preventing exhaustion from excessive social interactions. In the workplace, this may present as autistic employees showing more significant fatigue throughout the day than others.

Signs Of An Autistic Employee

Like other invisible disabilities, employers may be unsure how to spot the signs of an autistic employee. Understanding how to do this could help employers determine the best employee support to provide, which is useful.

The NHS provide guidance concerning the main signs of autism in adults, stating that these could include individuals:

  • Feeling very anxious in social situations
  • Struggling to deal with sarcasm due to taking things literally
  • Being very routine throughout their day and finding it hard to cope if things change

Although these symptoms may appear to disadvantage an individual, the NHS points out some advantageous symptoms that could be identified too. Other signs of autism that could be recognised involve individuals:

  • Spotting small details that others might not
  • Having great enthusiasm for a particular subject
  • Taking pleasure in being well-organised before completing a task

Regardless of the symptoms, it’s good practice for employers to do their best to spot the signs of an autistic employee and support them in any way they can. Doing so will create a more inclusive environment where employees can feel comfortable.

Should Employees Disclose Their Autism?

Deciding whether or not to disclose autism at work or during the recruitment process is a personal decision. There is no legal obligation for employees to tell their potential or current employer about this. Furthermore, employees may feel that disclosing this information could lead to them being discriminated against due to potential workplace stigma.

However, if employees disclose their autism at work, their employer is legally obliged to provide suitable support. Furthermore, if the employer knows the employee’s struggles, they could help find a solution. As a result, the employee may be happier and more productive. 

Employee Support that Employers Must Consider

Employers cannot discriminate against autism in the workplace. The Equality Act 2010 obligates employers to provide reasonable adjustments if a disabled person is substantially disadvantaged by a workplace procedure, physical feature, or a lack of equipment compared to a non-disabled person. Furthermore, autism is defined as a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

Therefore, if an employer knows that an employee has autism, they must provide reasonable adjustments if required. Such adjustments could include noise-cancelling headphones, flexible hours or exemption from meetings. There is a recommended procedure employees should follow when requesting this employee support, and the employer must fund any adjustments agreed on.

Should an employer fail to make reasonable adjustments, this could be considered disability discrimination. Employees can take steps to resolve the matter, but if the issue remains, they could claim to an employment tribunal.

If you have any questions about requesting reasonable adjustments or want to claim due to disability discrimination, contact us today. We can provide advice and uncover the eligibility of your case. We could also give guidance on how to proceed.