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Nov. 16, 2023

Neurodiversity accommodations

In implementing diversity initiatives, employers should give thought to how their workplace can benefit from—and how they must potentially accommodate—"neurodiverse" employees.

As Employers Continue to Enhance Their DEI Programs, They Should Consider Incorporating Neurodiversity into Those Programs

While diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) is a decades-old concept, many industries and employers increased their focus on DEI following George Floyd's death in 2020. Much of this focus has been on recruiting, retaining, and advancing employees of diverse identities, backgrounds, and origins. During this time, relatively few firms and industries have focused on incorporating neurodiversity into their DEI programs. Now may be a good time for employers to do so.

Neurodiversity has been defined in numerous ways. To put it simply, the term encompasses differences in how people's brains operate. It can refer to individuals with numerous developmental or neurological conditions, including individuals with ADHD or those on the autism spectrum. Neurodiverse employees may require some accommodations to assist them in adapting to the workplace.

Neurodiverse employees can offer organizations significant benefits. Aside from contributing to a workforce's diversity of thought and experience, such employees are sometimes stronger at identifying patterns in data, identifying innovative and creative solutions to problems,[1] focusing for extended periods of time on complex problems, and emphasizing and focusing on details than "neurotypical" individuals. All of these characteristics may yield considerable fruit for employers looking to deliver quality results for clients and customers.

Accommodations May Be Needed to Support Neurodiverse Employees in a Diverse Workplace

While a DEI program that embraces neurodiversity stands to offer real benefits to an organization, employers may also be legally obligated to offer reasonable accommodations to the neurodiverse individuals they employ. Employee accommodation is therefore often a crucial consideration in embracing neurodiversity in the workforce. Under the Americans with Disabilities Act—and its often more expansive state and city law analogs—a variety of diagnosed neurodiverse conditions and other traits may constitute impairments that warrant reasonable alterations to the working environment or workplace rules.

As is the case with any other condition covered under antidiscrimination law, there is no one-size-fits-all approach to accommodation assessments for neurodiverse employees, even those who share similar diagnoses. The key is engaging in an interactive dialog regarding what a given employee may need to perform the essential aspects of his or her position. An employer must then assess whether—and how—it can meet those needs, taking into account the nature of its business and the role that a neurodiverse employee may fill.

For those with sensory issues, that may mean offering enclosed workspaces with minimal audio or visual stimuli, noise-cancelling headphones to mute distractions, or reasonable departures from a dress code that would otherwise impair an individual's ability to perform effectively. Other employees with dyslexia may benefit from software that reads written text aloud, or extra time to complete tasks involving written work product.

In many cases, minor alterations to the workplace will allow employers to harness the value that neurodiverse employees add to a diverse, equitable, and inclusive workforce.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

Source: Emily Tortora and Xochitl S. Strohbehn from Venable LLP


1 Nathalie Hofman, How to Get the Benefits of a Neurodiverse Workforce, Ernst & Young Global Limited (Nov. 23, 2020), https://www.ey.com/en_gl/forensic-integrity-services/how-to-get-the-benefits-of-a-neurodiverse-workforce; Allaya Cooks-Campbell, Why You Shouldn't Overlook Neurodiversity in Your DEI Strategy, Better Up Blog (Jan. 7, 2022), https://www.betterup.com/blog/neurodiversity.

From WCI's HR Answers Now ©2023 CCH Incorporated and its affiliates. All rights reserved.

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