How employers can support neurodivergent staff

Neurodiversity is often a misunderstood topic, explains Victoria Middleditch, but businesses that support it can truly create an inclusive workplace

Neurodiversity is the concept that people's brains are different and that these differences are normal. Individuals with conditions such as autism, asperger's and ADHD are not abnormal, but simply think differently. They do not need to be cured and should instead be embraced and supported. 

Employers can play a crucial role in supporting neurodiversity by creating inclusive workplaces that break down stigma and make individuals feel valued, supported and understood. 

Why is neurodiversity within the workplace important?

There are many reasons why it is beneficial for employers to have a neurodivergent workforce and to support neurodiversity in the workplace. These include:

  • Neurodivergent individuals can provide a different perspective and support a business to grow and develop in new and innovative ways; 
  • Employers can educate the wider workforce about how to support neurodiversity, helping to break down stigmas around neurodiversity; 
  • It creates a more inclusive workplace and allows neurodivergent individuals to feel supported, valued and understood; 
  • It allows neurodivergent individuals to have a successful career and not to feel that they have a barrier to employment; and 
  • It allows neurodivergent individuals to feel empowered to disclose a neurodivergence. 

Are neurological conditions a disability under the law?

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’. 

Many neurodivergent individuals would argue that their neurodivergence does not negatively prevent them from living their lives. However, for others, their condition may limit their day-to-day lives to some extent. Therefore, neurodiverse conditions are often classed as disabilities for the purposes of the Equality Act. 

Employers need to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to remove or minimise any disadvantages for neurodivergent individuals. It is better for employers to take a proactive approach to this, instead of waiting for an employee who is neurodivergent to join their business. 

What can employers do to support neurodiversity?

There are many ways that an employer can support neurodiversity, including:

  • Adapting the workplace so there are quiet areas, fixed desk spaces for neurodivergent individuals who do not like change (particularly if the office adopts a hotdesk system) and IT equipment to support them in their work.
  • Actively hiring a diverse range of employees and providing adjustments to the recruitment process to allow neurodivergent individuals to perform well – for example, a formal interview might not always be appropriate and employers could think about other ways to test an applicant's ability to carry out required tasks (such as a written exercise).
  • Ensuring during any redundancy or promotion process that neurodivergent individuals are not placed at a disadvantage.
  • Listening to their neurodivergent employees as to how they can be supported better in the workplace and implementing such requests.
  • Providing regular training for employees on different neurological conditions, and how they can play a key role in supporting their neurodivergent colleagues.
  • Providing a safe, consistent work environment. If this is not possible, then employers must be aware of the challenges that neurodivergent employees may face (such as a dislike of change and a need for routine), and support them through these more challenging times in the most appropriate way. 

Neurodiversity is an often underestimated and a misunderstood topic, and employers have a great opportunity to change this by encouraging and supporting it in the workplace. This will provide not only great benefits to employers and their business, but also allow neurodivergent individuals the same opportunities in life as those who are neurotypical. 

Victoria Middleditch is an employment lawyer in Dentons' London office