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January 8, 2024 Industry Outlook | Law

Neurodiversity in the workplace should be an employer focus in 2024

Jarad Lucan

As we kick off 2024, employers are trying to predict employment trends for the upcoming year.

The past several years have brought a variety of issues to the forefront, including remote work, employee burnout and shifting economic pressures.

Neurodiversity is rising as one of the topics that employers must consider, including how to implement best practices for inclusion of neurodiverse individuals in the workplace.

Claire Pariano

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits.

Neurodiverse conditions include ADHD, dyslexia, autism, social anxiety disorders and dyspraxia, and they impact around 15% to 20% of the population.

They are often considered invisible disabilities because they are physical, mental or neurological conditions that aren’t visible from the outside, yet can limit or challenge a person’s movements, senses or activities.

Neurodiverse individuals make up a large portion of the workforce.

Employer considerations

An employee’s diagnosis of a neurodiverse condition does not involve a novel analysis for employers.

Rather, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) has established protections for the basic rights of disabled employees and prohibitions of discrimination on the basis of a disability.

If an employee approaches an employer regarding a neurodiversity condition, the ADA requires the employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to allow the employee to perform the essential functions of their position, as long as it does not result in an undue hardship for the company.

Employers must engage in an interactive process with the employee to determine potential reasonable accommodations to address the employee’s disability.

These accommodations can include new equipment, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, or alterations to facilities or worksites to cater to sensory needs.

Benefits of neurodiverse employees

Employers should embrace neurodiversity and restructure traditional workplace processes to enable neurodiverse employees to be successful.

Neurodiverse employees are credited with increased attention to detail, sharpened concentration, elevated problem-solving skills and exceptional pattern recognition, making them invaluable employees.

To develop a more inclusive workplace, employers should consider making disability part of their diversity, equity and inclusion strategy.

Employers should also consider implementing a neurodiversity awareness training for all employees during the onboarding process. This ensures that all employees receive the necessary information when they begin their employment.

Employers may also offer additional training sessions throughout the year that dive deeper into understanding neurodiversity and its implications within the company.

Employers should also consider fostering open communication around neurodiversity to create an environment where employees feel comfortable speaking up about their disabilities and need for accommodations.

Employers that implement these changes will receive the countless benefits neurodiverse employees have to offer, while also amplifying overall inclusion in the workplace.

Here’s the bottom line: In the upcoming year, employers must consider neurodiversity and educate human resources and hiring committees about the importance of addressing such issues to ensure that neurodiversity gets the proper respect in the workplace.

Jarad Lucan, a partner, is the chair and Claire Pariano, an associate, is a member of law firm Shipman & Goodwin’s employment and labor practice group.

Check out the rest of HBJ's 2024 economic forecast issue

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