What are the legal duties for businesses to make adjustments for ADHD employees?

Guest article by Leanne Maskell, who is an ADHD Coach, the founder and director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of ADHD: An A to Z.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is a neurodevelopmental condition, not a personality trait. To be diagnosed, a person must meet criteria of their life being significantly disrupted by symptoms of inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity for a very long time.  

This is why not everybody has ADHD: we might all get distracted from time to time, but not everybody gets so distracted that they cannot live a ‘normal’ life at all. From impulsively quitting jobs and relationships, to constantly missing important deadlines, or having the locksmith over every month, ADHD can be a debilitating condition to live with. It can even be life-threatening, as adults with the condition are 5 times more likely to have attempted suicide than those without. 

The legal duties for businesses to make adjustments for ADHD employees

In an employment context, this means ADHD can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010, triggering legal duties on employers to make reasonable adjustments once they become (or should reasonably have become) aware that a person is disabled. This is to ensure disabled workers and job applicants are not substantially disadvantaged at work because of their disability. 

This is a legal test, where a person has a mental or physical impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to do normal day-to-day activities. Formal medical diagnosis is not legally required, as it does not change the existence of a disability – it simply confirms it. 

It depends on the individual circumstances of each neurodivergent person as to whether they are disabled under this test, but given the high diagnostic criteria for ADHD, this is likely to be the case for many people. Regardless, if an employee is struggling enough to ask for help, they deserve to receive that help! 

Despite this, it’s clear that employers are struggling to accommodate invisible disabilities, with the number of employment tribunal cases relating to discrimination and neurodivergent conditions rising by a third in 1 year. With tribunal awards uncapped for disability discrimination compensation, this is an issue employers must take seriously – or pay the price. 

Contrastingly, making reasonable adjustments for disabled employees can also be a significant business opportunity. The British Dyslexia Association found that reasonable adjustments offer returns of at least £20,000 with increased productivity, sales, and standards at work, along with reduced staff turnover. 

This is because adjustments ‘level up’ the playing field between disabled and non-disabled colleagues, giving everybody the same opportunity to do their job. Employers have a legal duty to take reasonable steps to remove, reduce or prevent the substantial disadvantage a disabled person experiences because of their impairment, applying to both employees and job applicants. Such steps could include changes to policies, procedures, or providing additional aids or services as support.  

A common concern for employers is providing ‘special treatment’. Providing support for disadvantaged workers results in equality for everybody, so reverse discrimination claims by non-disabled people are not possible. Only a tribunal can determine whether something is reasonable, but this typically depends on culture such as effectiveness, and size of the employer. 

As no instruction manual is provided with an ADHD diagnosis, and symptoms can appear in everybody differently, it can be challenging for everybody to know what reasonable adjustments would be most effective. For this reason, it can be extremely helpful to involve a third party, such as an Occupational Health assessor with expertise in neurodiversity. They can make recommendations based on best practice and legal requirements, helping employers to know how to meet their legal duties to support disabled employees at work. 

Following an assessment, employers must ensure adjustments are actually implemented. As employees may be nervous about making mistakes, it can be helpful to provide neurodiversity training, such as for managers, to ensure confidence in implementing and discussing changes as needed. This helps adjustments to be made clearly and promptly, avoiding further disadvantage for the disabled person. Empowering employees to make simple adjustments such as providing interview questions for disabled workers in advance without sign-off can be highly effective in reducing unnecessary bureaucracy. 

 Failure to make reasonable adjustments can amount to disability discrimination, which is what equality law protects disabled people against in the workplace. Although funding is available via Access to Work to help people with health conditions impacting them at work, such as in relation to administrative support, it’s important to note that this is additional, not instead of, legally required reasonable adjustments.  

The easiest way employers can ensure they meet their legal duties towards neurodivergent employees is to have a clear reasonable adjustments policy in place, explaining each step of the process. This not only ensures that people with ADHD understand how to access support at work and harness their strengths, but also empowers everybody to uphold an accessible and inclusive culture, where people can reach their full potential in the workplace. 

Leanne Maskell is an ADHD Coach, the founder and director of coach training company ADHD Works and author of ADHD: An A to Z. DISCLAIMER: This article is for information purposes only and is in no way intended to be legal advice to be relied upon.

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