In the past year, employment tribunals have witnessed an increasing number of cases in which employees attribute discrimination to their neurodiversity, according to recent research.
Data gathered by the employment law firm Fox & Partners revealed that 102 cases were brought to tribunals, with specific mentions including 30 cases related to dyslexia, 25 to autism, 19 to ADHD, 14 to dyspraxia, and another 14 to Asperger’s syndrome.
Neurodiversity, in essence, refers to the diversity of cognitive abilities and the various ways in which individuals’ brains process information.
This emerging concept has garnered attention as it highlights the unique strengths and challenges faced by those with neurodiverse conditions.
The issues that find their way into employment tribunals often revolve around neurodivergent employees who believe their performance and behaviour in the workplace are being unfairly evaluated based on their condition. Ivor Adair, a partner at Fox & Partners, emphasised that while awareness of neurodiversity within the workforce has grown, many employers are yet to develop effective strategies to support neurodiverse employees.
What needs to change?
Adair stated, “Employers should be allocating resources to drive forward a more sophisticated diversity and inclusion strategy, one that includes neurodiversity. They should recognise that diversity of thought not only leads to improved decision-making but also enhances their competitive edge. The retention and progression of neurodiverse individuals play a significant role in risk management.”
To address this issue, experts believe businesses must take proactive steps to reduce the need for employment tribunals. Chloe Pereira, legal director of people services at Outset Ltd, underlined the importance of going beyond mere policy implementation and recommended measures such as raising awareness among employees about various neurodiverse conditions, providing regular training to promote understanding and empathy, and implementing tailored accommodations to meet individual needs.
Deborah Leveroy, head of consultancy and research at Neurobox, highlighted the crucial role that line managers play and called for proper training and support for them in overseeing neurodivergent employees. A lack of clear policy can result in costly and unnecessary tribunals.
Ranjit Dhindsa, head of employment at Fieldfisher, emphasised the need for diverse and adaptive approaches to accommodate the wide spectrum of neurodiversity. He urged organisations to provide training to managers, ensuring that they are equipped to work effectively with neurodiverse individuals, each of whom may require unique support.
Managers play a crucial role
Andrew Willis, associate director of legal at Croner, added that managers should be trained to recognise unconscious biases and become knowledgeable about neurodiversity. Creating an inclusive environment where neurodiverse employees feel supported and encouraged to communicate their needs is equally vital.
In addition to these steps, HR departments have a significant role to play. They must facilitate education, support, and understanding among managers and peers, thereby fostering better working relationships. Businesses and HR teams should review every stage of the employment life cycle, from recruitment onwards, to ensure that internal practices and procedures do not discriminate against individuals based on their neurodiversity.
Willis suggested that during the recruitment stage, HR should consider adapting the application process to accommodate neurodivergent candidates’ needs. This might include allowing written answers to specific questions rather than multiple-choice responses. Furthermore, discussions should take place to determine whether workplace adaptations, such as providing a quiet workspace or clarifying tasks and deadlines, could assist the employee.
Dhindsa also emphasised the importance of promptly addressing the needs of neurodiverse individuals and developing action plans, which can be communicated to the workforce with the individual’s consent, or at least to their manager. In doing so, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive environment for all employees, regardless of their neurodiversity.
Amelia Brand is the Editor for HRreview, and host of the HR in Review podcast series. With a Master’s degree in Legal and Political Theory, her particular interests within HR include employment law, DE&I, and wellbeing within the workplace. Prior to working with HRreview, Amelia was Sub-Editor of a magazine, and Editor of the Environmental Justice Project at the University College London, writing and overseeing articles into UCL’s weekly newsletter. Her previous academic work has focused on philosophy, politics and law, with a special focus on how artificial intelligence will feature in the future.