In the UK, approximately one in seven people are neurodivergent meaning their brain can work and interpret information differently from “neurotypical” individuals, leading to diverse ways of thinking as well as difference in attention span and memory. Neurodivergence includes a range of conditions such as Autism, Dyspraxia and Attention Deficit Disorders.
Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must make reasonable adjustments when they know, or could reasonably be expected to know, their employee is disabled. Neurodiversity could meet the legal definition of disability under the EQA 2010. It is however important to remember that not all neurodivergent employees will consider themselves to have a disability – and the old fashioned language of the statute can be unhelpful here.
Workplace investigation interviews can be extremely stressful and anxiety provoking for any individual and employers should provide appropriate support mechanisms throughout any grievance, disciplinary or workplace investigation process, regardless of whether someone is neurodivergent. However, when it comes to neurodivergent employees, it is important for employers to take into account additional considerations, given the differences in thought process and interpretation of information and beyond. This will ensure neurodivergent individuals’ needs are taken into account throughout any interview process, regardless of whether the individual is disabled for the purposes of the EQA 2010 or not.
Here are some general points for employers to consider when interviewing neurodivergent employees. However, each interview process should be tailored to the employee and their specific needs.
Before the interview
You should speak with the neurodivergent employee before the interview to understand how their conditions and any related medications affect them. You should aim to provide appropriate adjustments to accommodate each employees’ specific needs to ensure they can engage with the interview process effectively and that they feel adequately supported.
Provide clear and concise written and visual information about the interview
It is often helpful to provide an agenda for the interview, including profiles of the people who will be on the interview panel and a clear timetable, factoring in appropriate breaks.
Provide interview questions in advance
Neurodivergent employees may have difficulties thinking on their feet and processing information quickly. Therefore, if possible, you should provide interview questions in advance which will enable the employee to construct meaningful responses.
You should check if the employee would like to have a support worker to accompany them during the interview. The support worker will not answer on behalf of the employee but provide support during the interview to ensure the neurodivergent individual feels comfortable and can explain / resolve possible miscommunications. Depending on the nature of the interview, the employee may also have the right to be accompanied by a colleague or trade union representative. It may be an appropriate adjustment to allow a support worker to attend in addition to any other companion.
During the interview
Often neurodivergent individuals will experience sensory sensitivities and need the right environment to process information. The more relaxed and comfortable the individual feels, the more accurate and detailed their evidence will likely be. Therefore, it is essential to provide a quiet and private interview room with no opportunities for distraction. This includes checking the lighting of the room, making sure there’s no ticking clocks, having the right room temperature etc.
Be mindful of how you phrase your questions
You should choose questions carefully and be direct. You should avoid multi-layered questions, metaphors, and abstract questions. Breaking down questions / events may be helpful for neurodivergent individuals to focus their efforts segment-by-segment. You should also be mindful that the employee may interpret language literally.
If questions have been provided in advance, they should be followed in the correct order and if there is any diversion from the prepared questions, that should be explained to the employee to avoid any confusion.
Allow processing time
Neurodivergent employees may need extra time to consider how best to answer certain questions. Where the employee is taking longer to answer the questions, you should resist interrupting them by rephrasing their questions and allow the employee to confer with their support worker or companion as appropriate.
Provide adequate breaks
During long interviews, neurodivergent individuals may require breaks to ensure they do not feel overwhelmed, and interviewers should prompt the employee to take a break when needed. It may also be appropriate to schedule follow-up interviews if a more significant break is required.
After the interview
You can reduce your employee’s anxiety levels immediately by providing clear guidance on the next steps and the timescales at the end of the interview.
Send follow up emails
Many neurodivergent employees experience increase in their anxiety levels when confronted by sudden changes. Therefore, it is important for you to provide clear updates on a set date and time with as many details about the process and any changes made.
This is generally standard practice anyway, but it may be useful to provide interview notes to the employee for them to review.
Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with eye contact, fidget, or exhibit physical tics. You must ensure you do not let this impact decision-making.
Type of meeting
Ask the employee whether they prefer a virtual meeting or an in-person meeting.
Reading up on your employee’s disability can make a huge difference in noticing the small changes you can make to accommodate to their needs. However, be careful of “doctor google” – nothing beats proper medical advice.
As an employer, you can play a significant role in making the interview process much more neurodivergent-friendly. Small adjustments, such as the ones we have outlined above, can make an anxiety-provoking interview process a lot more manageable for neurodivergent employees and, as a result, provide a much more beneficial outcome for you as an employer too.
One issue facing employers is that employees often do not feel comfortable disclosing any neurodiverse conditions in their workplace (or they may not have been formally diagnosed). Showing active support for neurodiverse workers could encourage others to disclose their own neurodiversity and promote equality in the workplace, as well as allowing productive workplace interviewing to take place.
If you require further information about anything covered in this briefing, please contact Marianne Kemp or your usual contact at the firm on +44 (0)20 3375 7000.
This publication is a general summary of the law. It should not replace legal advice tailored to your specific circumstances.
© Farrer & Co LLP, April 2023