How can employers support autistic people in the workplace?


According to the charity Autistica, only around 30% of working-age autistic people are in employment, and they face the largest pay gap of all disability groups.

CIPD research published in February 2024 found that one in five neurodivergent employees surveyed have experienced harassment or discrimination at work because of their neurodivergence.

Our article published in June 2023 considered the Buckland review and the barriers preventing autistic people from entering the workplace and remaining in employment. The Government published its response to the review on 28 February 2024, giving 19recommendations explored under five specific themes.

Recommendations

What initiatives can help raise awareness, reduce stigma, and capitalise on the productivity of autistic employees?

The review recommends highlighting the availability and sources of advice for employers and publicising the benefits of employing autistic people. It also recommends promoting the Autistica Neurodiversity Employers Index to help organisations measure themselves against best practice.

What more could be done to prepare autistic people effectively for beginning or returning to a career?

Recommendations include identifying and promoting cross-industry autism employment support groups, internships, and apprenticeships for autistic young people to gain work experience and skills. Working with autism charities to ensure autistic people know about the support that Access to Work can provide is also recommended.

How can employers adjust recruitment practices to meet the needs of autistic applicants?

The Equality Act 2010 provides that employers have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to the interview process for disabled applicants. However, many autistic people are unwilling to disclose their autism, especially those who have negative experiences from previous interviews.

The traditional model does not work well for autistic people who have far more negative experiences of interviews, group tasks and psychometric tests. Accordingly, recruitment practices should be modernised to include practical assignments completed before the interview. This will help autistic people to demonstrate their suitability for the role. Job descriptions should be shortened. They are often too long and off-putting for many autistic people.

How can employers support autistic people already in their workforce?

One of the biggest barriers to supporting autistic employees in the workplace is a lack of understanding of autism amongst employers.

The National Autistic Society found that 34% of employers thought an autistic person would be unlikely to fit into their team, and 28% said that autistic people would be unlikely to be a team player. As the review says:

“These are damaging stereotypes which can impact the ability of autistic people to find employment. It can make them less likely to disclose their diagnosis to either a prospective or current employer, and so not get access to crucial reasonable adjustments.”

The work environment is also important – hotdesking, bright lighting or high noise levels may contribute to sensory overload.

How can employers encourage and support autistic staff to develop and progress their careers?

The review identifies lack of confidence, poor self-advocacy and wrong assumptions about their career goals as some of the reasons why autistic employees could miss out on progression opportunities. In addition, there are few examples of autistic senior personnel who are prepared to be open about their condition. This lack of role models impacts autistic people’s confidence and aspirations.

The review recommends promoting employee resource support networks and using mentors to help autistic staff develop the skills they need to progress.

Interestingly, the review expressly states that the recommendations have been selected to be practically achievable in a short to medium timeframe. No new legislation is required, nor is large amounts of government funding. Rather, the intention is mainly to change employer behaviour. The aim is to significantly improve the autism employment rate over the next five years by reducing the barriers to recruiting, retaining and developing autistic employees.


Hannah Waterworth

Hannah Waterworth is an employment solicitor in Blake Morgan’s Employment, Pensions, Benefits and Immigration team.





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