Autism is a term covering a wide range of conditions that reflect neurological differences among people. It can cause social barriers which may affect the lives of people with autism at work. There are about 332,600 people of working age in the UK with autism. However, only 15 per cent of adults with autism are in full-time employment and only 9 per cent are in part-time work.
Autism in the workplace, written for the TUC by Janine Booth, aims to inform union reps and workers of the facts around the condition, and advice on how to support autistic staff to ensure they get the adjustments they may need – and are legally entitled to.
The guide explains the difficulties autistic people can face at work, and suggests a number of changes that an employer can implement to make the workplace more autism-friendly, including:
- a relaxation space in the workplace, like a quiet room
- reduction in an overload of distractions in the workplace, like maximising natural light, and enabling easy control of light and temperature
- information about autism and support services available so that all workers can access it
- providing paid time off for union reps to attend training and events about autism
- all instructions and policies to be written and communicated clearly and accurately
- training for managers about autism, including recognising autistic positives and skills
- all changes to working practices to be negotiated with the union, and proper notice given before they are introduced.
TUC General Secretary Frances O’Grady said: “All too often, people who are autistic can face challenges and obstacles at work due to ignorance and prejudice around their condition.
“Our new workplace guidance gives union reps and employees the information they need to support autistic work colleagues and make plans for any potential problems before they arise.”
Case studies from the report:
Andrew Beck, who has Asperger’s Syndrome and learning difficulties, had worked as a golf club green keeper since 1986. He had no problems at work until the appointment of a new head green keeper in 1999. His new boss:
- told him to wear highly visible clothing and a red cap to distinguish him from other staff and to alert golfers to his presence
- banned him from using a motorised vehicle and made him cart heavy equipment in a wheelbarrow
- gave Andrew duties which involved an unfair amount of heavy work, often without breaks of lighter work, in contrast to other green keepers
- approached him from behind and violently knocked a rake out of his hands, then pushed him out of the way, using bad language
- accused him of not pulling his weight and used a stream of obscenities
- subjected Andrew to a cheap joke by giving him a child’s game as his staff Christmas present
- gave him a verbal warning because of alleged numerous instances of failing to carry out tasks.
The employer did not communicate with Andrew properly and he had no-one to talk about his anxieties. In 2007, Andrew resigned because of continuing pressure and its effect on his health. Andrew won an Employment Tribunal claim for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination, and was awarded £78,000.
Adam O’Dee, who has Asperger’s syndrome and dyslexia, worked as a chef at a hotel from February 2010, having been introduced by Remploy, which helps disabled people find work. His boss paid him £95 per week – less than half the minimum wage – because he thought he could get away with it. He was not paid for working extra hours at weekends and busy times like Christmas. The boss claimed that Adam had to be ‘carried and pampered’. He threatened to sack Adam for ‘taking too much off the end of a cucumber’; and threw frozen bread rolls around the kitchen after wrongly blaming him for not taking them out of the freezer. Eventually, Adam resigned, complaining of harassment and victimisation. Adam won an Employment Tribunal claim for unfair dismissal, disability discrimination and breach of minimum wage law, and was awarded more than £40,000.
Autism in the workplace is available at www.tuc.org.uk/sites/default/files/Autism.pdf