Employment tribunals in which employees alleged they were discriminated against for being ‘neurodiverse’ rose by a third last year, according to one employment specialist.
According to legal firm Fox & Partners, the rise in tribunals – to 93 in 2021 from 70 in 2020 – is likely to be because of an increased awareness about neurodiverse conditions. The number of autism diagnoses increased 787% over the past two decades, whilst prescriptions for medication to treat ADHD jumped 800% according to studies, respectively by the University of Exeter and the British Pharmacological Society.
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that describes the differing ways that people’s brains process information and includes, in addition to ADHD and autism, conditions such as dyslexia, and dyspraxia. It is thought about one in seven people in the UK have some kind of neurodivergence.
Fox’s study showed a 40% rise in employment tribunals relating to autism, a 31% rise in Asperger’s cases and a 14% rise in dyslexia claims in the past year alone.
The law firm said tribunal claims often arose when employees felt sidelined or unsupported or that they’ve been dismissed for reasons linked to their disability. Some professional environments can pose problems for those with neurodiversity. For example, employees with autism may suffer from sensory overload due to noise in the workplace or judging social cues in a professional environment, while those with ADHD may struggle to focus on tasks or manage their time.
It was important, however, to not make assumptions according to better known characteristics, said Fox partner Ivor Adair.
He added that businesses that failed to take steps to understand through discussion and embrace neurodivergent individuals may be missing out, particularly at the recruitment or progression stages.
The employment specialist also said it had seen how individuals now felt more comfortable discussing their differences in the workplace more openly. Following the pandemic, conversations about mental health and disability visibility have become more commonplace.
Fox & Partners says that not only should employers be mindful of making adjustments given the prevalence of neurodiversity in the population, but they should look to harness the advantages of a diverse workforce that includes neurodiverse employees. Many will excel in creative roles, and strategic thinking and problem solving.
Leadership can ensure that neurodiverse staff are properly understood given tasks that play to their strengths.
Adair, said: “The jump in tribunal claims shows that employers can’t afford to ignore neurodiversity issues. Employees are increasingly willing to disclose they are neurodivergent and aren’t afraid to request reasonable adjustments if their workplace setup places them at a disadvantage, or challenge discriminatory treatment.
“Employers would be advised to stop making assumptions, work to identify the talents of neurotypicals and understand how they can give their organisation a competitive edge as part of a diverse team.”