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Making the workplace ADHD friendly

Posted by Supportis Legal Experts in HR and Employment Law

October is ADHD Awareness Month, which aims to educate the public by sharing scientific research about ADHD (Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder), making it an optimal time to look at ADHD in the workplace as well as how disability discrimination can occur, the obligations of business regarding disability discrimination and what can be done to make the working environment friendlier to people with disabilities.

Since the Equality Act was passed in 2010, there is now more pressure than ever on businesses to act appropriately for their disabled employees.

How Disability Discrimination Occurs in a Business Environment

Discrimination in the workplace tends to occur in one of two ways; directly, or indirectly.

Direct discrimination involves treating an employee less favourably due to their disability, perceived disability or association with somebody with a disability. For example, dismissal of an employee solely due to their disability is considered direct discrimination, and since the Equality Act was passed, it is now unlawful. Firms in breach may face legal action or employment tribunals, both of which carry large financial burdens and as a result can severely damage profits.

Indirect discrimination differs slightly. It involves a workplace practice having a more significant impact on a disabled person than an able person, something businesses need to be wary of. Of course businesses that appear to be discriminating against current employees or job applicants can face tribunals and see their reputation ruined, however in some cases indirect discrimination is justifiable. For example a person with a severe back problem applying for a job that may involve heavy lifting can be justifiably turned down. In order for this to be lawful under the Equality Act though, the business must prove ‘objective justification’ for the decision. To do so they must demonstrate ‘a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim’.

ADHD in the Workplace

ADHD itself is a condition affecting attention, impulsiveness and hyperactivity. According to a study conducted by the World Health Organisation, of 7000 employees in 10 different countries who were surveyed, 3.5% were found to have ADHD. It is important for businesses to consider what skills people with ADHD can bring and how to capitalise on these strengths to get the best out of their employees.

Although the Equality Act recognises ADHD as a disability, those with the condition can bring an array of unique skills to all kinds of businesses. The ability to ‘hyper-focus’ on tasks they are interested in means that they can provide above average efficiency and productivity. As such, they are often best suited avoiding repetitive, monotonous tasks and may benefit from working in a group to avoid long periods of isolation.

They also have the ability to think outside the box due to their creativity. This allows them to provide fresh ideas to businesses in all facets, from production processes to product development ideas.

Obligations of Employers

Often workers with a disability require adjustments to be made to the workplace. These changes are referred to as ‘reasonable adjustments’ and may be based upon how things are done in the business, actual physical changes to the working environment or the provision of extra assistance or equipment. By law, any adjustments requested by a disabled employee or disabled job applicant must at least be considered by the employer. If the changes are deemed to be reasonable, the employee must ensure that suitable changes are made in order to not disadvantage employees with a disability. For people with ADHD, reasonable adjustments may include regular checks to ensure the employee is interested in the tasks they have been set, or adding more short breaks into their day to break up their work into manageable parts and avoid boredom.

Naturally businesses want to know as much about applicants as they can when advertising jobs, however since the Equality Act was passed there are now several rules that employers must abide by. Knowing about the general health of an applicant may seem necessary for ultimately deciding who to hire, however businesses can’t just ask whatever health questions they want. By law, employers are only permitted to ask health related questions to ensure applicants can carry out the essential functions of the job. Applicants who feel that they are being asked health questions unlawfully can take the employer to a tribunal or even complain to the Equality and Human Rights Commission. Further health questions can only be asked after the job has been offered to the applicant.

Making a Friendly Working Environment

Showing an understanding of and supporting employees with a disability can go a long way. Research from the National Resource Centre on ADHD found that somewhere between 25-40% of adults with ADHD also have an anxiety disorder as well. Allowing employees with ADHD to delegate non-core aspects of their job that they find more difficult or stressful can reduce pressure and relieve stress, allowing them to minimise overall anxiety and maximise productivity at work.

Disabled employees are often afraid to talk about their disability out of fear being viewed as a less capable employee and the effect it may have on their career progression. Ensuring confidentiality by clarifying with the employee exactly who can see their occupational health assessment (or other health related information) can ensure staff feel valued by their employer and also helps to build trust.

If you require any further information regarding human resource management or would like know more about how Supportis can help you, call one of our Employment Law Advisers on 0161 603 2156.

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