Employees: Working when neurodivergent

If you are (or think you might be) neurodivergent - such as being autistic, dyslexic, dyspraxic, or having an attention deficit disorder - do you know what your rights and responsibilities are in the workplace?

We outline some of the important things for you to know that can help ensure that you are treated fairly in the workplace.

What are your employment rights?

What employment rights you have will often depend upon your Employment status - whether you are an employee, worker or self-employed.

If you are an employee or a worker, your employer has a duty of care to take all steps which are reasonably possible to ensure your health, safety and wellbeing. This means that they must take steps to protect you from:

  • working excessive hours
  • being overloaded with work
  • bullying, harassment or discrimination.

Additional rights if your neurodivergence amounts to a disability

If you are neurodivergent then it will usually amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010.

A person is disabled if they have 'a physical or mental impairment' which has 'a substantial and long-term adverse effect' on their 'ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities'. This means that even if you have not been formally diagnosed or assessed as neurodivergent you could still be considered to have a disability.

Having a disability under the Equality Act 2010 means that your employer must consider making 'reasonable adjustments' to help you carry out your job without being at a disadvantage if:

  • they become aware of your disability
  • they could reasonably be expected to know you have a disability
  • you ask for an adjustment to be made
  • you are having difficulty with any part of your job
  • either your sickness record, or delay in returning to work, is linked to your disability.

For more information on adjustments go to What support could your employer offer.

Disclosing your neurodivergence

It is your choice whether or not you wish to disclose your neurodivergence when applying for a role or once you are employed. However, it is often helpful to tell them.

In a recruitment process, it means that the prospective employer can make adjustments and take steps to ensure that any assessment gives you a fair opportunity to show your skills and experience.

Once employed, it can make it easier for your manager to provide the support and/or adjustments you need to perform at your best and be a valuable member of their team.

It might help to talk it through with someone you trust and who knows you very well. You could invite that person to accompany you to a meeting with your manager so they can help make the meeting as effective and useful as it can be.

Remember, an employer must not treat you unfairly if you disclose that you are neurodivergent. If they do, then it may amount to discrimination or constructive dismissal and you could take the matter further.

Do your colleagues need to know about it too?

Whether you want your colleagues to know is also your choice. So if you decide to tell your manager but do not want your work colleagues to know, your manager must respect your decision.

However, for some reasonable adjustments to be put in place, certain additional people may need to know.

Your manager should discuss and agree with you:

  • who will be told
  • what you do and don't want them to know
  • who will do the telling, where, when and how
  • whether you will be present.

What support could your employer offer?

If your neurodivergence amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, your employer must make 'reasonable adjustments' to help you carry out your role without being at a disadvantage.

However (whether you have a disability or not), your employer might still want to consider making adjustments, as they will help you perform at your best.

Your employer may want to arrange a diagnostic assessment and/or workplace needs assessment to help them ensure the support they provide is appropriate. The assessment will usually provide practical recommendations for mitigating any difficulties you may have.

They may not arrange this if the costs make it unreasonable or they believe they can work with you to identify appropriate support without it.

Each person will be different, but to give you an idea of the type of accommodations or additional support that other organisations have implemented for neurodivergent staff, download our pdf icon Common adjustments that might be appropriate for a neurodivergent team member [112kb].

Your employer should talk to you about what potential changes may help and only implement them if you agree.

Once in place, your employer should regularly review any adjustment to check it is still appropriate and/or working as intended.

Seeking help if problems arise

Even with adjustments in place, problems can still arise. If you are struggling with work or with problems outside of work, you should seek help.

For most issues you should talk to your manager. Their role is to help and support you. If you are not comfortable talking to your manager, you could consider talking to another manager, HR or a work colleague that you have a good working relationship with.

You should also find out if your organisation provides any additional support such as:

  • A neurodiversity network
  • Neurodiversity champions
  • Mental health first aiders or champions
  • Employee assistance programmes
  • Trade union representative.

Further support could also be found away from your workplace. For a list of charities who might be able to provide help go to where to go for further support.

Taking matters further if you think you have been treated unfairly

You should try to resolve any problems informally with your manager in the first instance.
 
Many issues can be resolved quickly by having an informal conversation. Sorting things out at an early stage can stop problems from getting worse, and remove the need to make a formal complaint.

Making a formal complaint

If raising the matter informally does not resolve the problem, you could make a formal complaint (sometimes called a grievance). A complaint should:

  • be put in writing
  • set out what the problem or concern is
  • provide examples to support your complaint
  • explain what you would like your employer to do

Your complaint should be taken seriously by your employer. They should investigate the matter and invite you to a meeting to try to find a way to resolve the problem.

For more information, go to Raising an issue at work.

Taking legal action

If you still want to take the matter further after raising a formal complaint, you may be able to submit an employment tribunal claim. This would involve starting a legal process, which could end in attending an employment tribunal or going through the court system.

To begin the employment tribunal process, you must notify Acas of your intention to lodge an employment tribunal claim. Acas will offer you 'Early Conciliation', which provides those involved the chance to settle the matter without it going to tribunal.

For most tribunal claims there is a three-month time limit for you to submit a claim. However this time limit does pause if Early Conciliation is taking place. For more information, go to Employment Tribunals.

Where to go for further support and information

  • ADHD Foundation - Adults section
  • British Dyslexic Association - Guidance for employees
  • Dyspraxia Foundation - Guidance for employees
  • National Autistic Society - Guidance for autistic adults
  • Tourettes Action - Adults section
  • Access to Work can provide advice and an assessment of workplace needs if you have a disability or a long-term health condition, and are already in work or about to start. Grants may be available to help cover the cost of workplace adaptations to enable you to carry out your job without being at a disadvantage. For more information, go to www.gov.uk/access-to-work.
  • Employee assistance programmes (EAP) - some employers are part of an EAP, which provides round-the-clock support for staff dealing with personal problems that might adversely impact their job performance, health, and wellbeing. If your employer is part of an EAP, they should be regularly reminding staff of this option.
  • Trade unions - if you are a trade union member, you can seek help and guidance from your trade union representative.
This guidance has been produced with contributions from Dr Nancy Doyle and the Neurodiversity and Employment Working Group, British Psychological Society; the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyspraxia Foundation.
 
We would like to thank all those who assisted in the development of the guidance.