Remote Working for Staff with Neurodiverse Conditions or Disabilities

Posted in : 'Any Questions' Webinar Recordings on 2 October 2020
Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors
Issues covered: Neurodiversity; Disability; Remote Working; Reasonable Adjustments

This webinar will focus on questions on the employment of neurodiverse employees, particularly the needs of those who are working remotely or from home.

Scott Alexander, Legal Island, will discuss with Seamus McGranaghan, Director, O’Reilly Stewart Solicitors your questions on the legal requirements for implementing reasonable adjustments to facilitate effective remote working for employees with neurodiverse conditions or disabilities and Louise McQuillan, Workplace Solution Specialist, from Texthelp will outline some practical advice for employers on supporting employees with neurodiverse conditions in the workplace.

The Recording


Scott: Good morning, everybody. My name is Scott Alexander. Welcome to today's webinar, which is a special "Employment Law at 11". We have a guest with us today other than Seamus. So, as you can see, it's on remote working for staff with neurodiverse conditions or disabilities, and we'll have a bit of discussion about what exactly is the disability and what are neurodiverse conditions.

We're joined here today by Texthelp and Louise McQuillan. So the panel today is me, I'm Scott Alexander from Legal-Island, and as you can see, Seamus is over from O'Reilly Stewart, and we have the workplace solutions manager, Louise McQuillan from Texthelp. Texthelp are basically like Legal-Island in Antrim, although everyone is working from home today at the moment.

If you look at your screen, you'll see that there are little question boxes that you can send. We have some that we're going to be going through anyway, but you can send them in. They're all anonymous.

And we'll be here until about 11:45 or so. It's all being recorded and any Hub subscribers, anyone that's in the Employment Law Hub for Legal-Island can listen back probably after this afternoon, and there'll be a transcript as well. The slides and some additional resources for you will be sent out to all listeners or all those that are registered after the broadcast.

This is the 38th, believe it or not, "Employment Law at 11" webinar. They're all online if you want to have a check. We have dealt with 400 questions plus many questions within those with Seamus.

Poll Questions

Are you aware of any neurodiverse employees in your workforce?

Has your organisation taken action to assist neurodiverse employees or applicants in the workplace?

Has your organisation provided any additional support for neurodiverse colleagues who are working from home?

Defining Neurodiversity

What exactly does neurodiverse mean? Is it defined anywhere or is it just something that you make up in Texthelp?

Louise: No, it does have an actual definition. It's not a term that has been branded by Texthelp. Really, when you talk about neurodiversity, it does seem a bit of a strange topic, but when you actually get into sort of the core of it, everybody is aware of somebody who has a neurodiverse condition. I mean, for a full definition really, neurodiversity really refers to a variation in the human brain, so how the human brain processes information.

So, when you start to look up the likes of the conditions that fall under neurodiversity, you've got dyslexia, autism, ADHD, processing conditions, Asperger's. You can kind of see where there's a connection. With dyslexia, it's actually looking at the way words are processed. Dyscalculia, the same with numbers. Attention deficit, it's just that focus of attention. So there is that kind of connection between each of them, but again, the condition affects individual slightly differently.

Scott: Yeah, just to interrupt there, a lot of people talk about being on the spectrum. Presumably, being on the spectrum, just as you say, affects individuals differently. There could be people who have, I suppose, a high level of dyslexia or ADHD and others that is mild. Is that how it works?

Louise: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, there's always sort of been that no two people with autism are affected in the same way. Similar with dyslexia, there's no two people that process information in the same way. There are certain trends, certain similarities, but everybody kind of has . . . or it affects everybody in their slightly own way.

Scott: Okay. Seamus, Louise just said that you've got . . . this makes it very difficult, I think, for employers, because if everybody reacts in different ways and they're affected in different ways and they have different levels of, let's say, dyslexia or autism, then there is a statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments for employees and indeed prospective employees.

Employers Legal Duties for Employees with a Neurodiversity

So could you maybe explain in general what the duties are when it comes to applicants or employees with neurodiverse conditions and what this whole reasonable adjustment element is about?

Seamus: Well, the protection essentially is enshrined in the Disability Discrimination Act of 1995. I know that in England now they have the Equality Act, but we still rely upon and use the Disability Discrimination Act and many of the amendments to that.

Essentially, we always go back to that meaning of disability that's set out within the act, and it's essentially a person has a disability, for the purposes of the Act, if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out their normal day-to-day activities.

And it goes further than that. It's set out in Article 4. It deals with discrimination specifically against applicants and employees, and Article 4A for employers, their duty to make reasonable adjustments.

The word that springs is it does oblige employers to make reasonable adjustments for someone with a disability. Not always, but often this will include neurodiverse individuals.

Where I see it, the law affords protection for employees with disabilities, and there essentially two protections. One, employers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled employee, and second of all and importantly, those employees shouldn't be treated unfavourably for a reason arising out of their disability.

And for me, really, that does mean that employers have a duty to ensure that disabled employees can overcome any substantial disadvantages that they may have in doing their jobs or, alternatively, in progressing at work.

And that all sounds very straightforward. I think we should be clear in relation to those disabilities. But as I've mentioned just at the start, it's not always that straightforward because employers often will not have an awareness and it's this aspect of referring to neurodiverse conditions as hidden or that they're hidden disabilities.

And it may be as well that sometimes you have individuals that wouldn't be happy being termed as having a disability. They wouldn't be comfortable with that because they feel that they can function and operate the same as the rest of us.

I suppose what might be helpful for the listeners is to give a flavour and an idea of where these sort of cases come from and give some practical advice in relation to it.

But just before I'd say that, just in relation to what are termed reasonable adjustments, it's really important that employers of neurodiverse individuals take steps to understand the employee's condition as soon as possible, whether it's brought to their attention or whether it comes to their attention maybe through other ways and means.

I think the key aspect, for me, this has to be that the employer needs to get an understanding, and that might be looking at outside training resources. Maybe Texthelp are able to assist in relation to that. I know that there are other agencies available out there as well, but it's getting a real grip and an understanding of the condition and how it impacts on the person. And often, the best way to find that is to speak to the employee generally.

We'd mentioned just at the start that sometimes there's a bit of a fear and a bit of a worry about how you bring these matters up and how it's discussed. There is a degree of sensitivity that has to follow with that, but just in respect to the adjustments themselves, they are reasonable adjustments and it doesn't necessarily require the employer to spend vast amounts of money or to start bringing in really over-expensive software and things like that. Sometimes these reasonable adjustments are small, they're inconsequential, but they can make substantial differences to the individuals that are concerned.

One of the things would be, with neurodiverse employees, maybe someone on the autism spectrum, that change would bring around a lot of anxiety. It's about avoiding changes and having a plan in place for those employees where maybe you're given advance notification or you're communicating openly, maybe putting things in writing and giving explanations of where things are at.

But maybe just to touch on some of the cases, there are maybe three cases that I'll mention in total. The first one is a case of Everitt against Regal Consultancy. This was an ET case in England in 2016 and this related to an employee who worked in Subway and this employee had high-functioning autism. And there was a hygiene test that was undertaken within the workplace and they failed and it subsequently brought disciplinary proceedings that arose. The employer was aware of the employee's condition, and at the disciplinary hearing, the employee asked if they could have a family companion attend as the company meant rather than the usual . . .

Scott: Through union rep or something like that.

Seamus: Thank you.

Scott: There you go.

Seamus: There we go. Stuck at the basics there.

Scott: We didn't escape…

Seamus: They had asked for a family member to attend, and the purpose was really because the family member understood the employee's condition. They had particular communication issues and it really would have been a help and an advantage if the employee had been with a family member. That was refused and, ultimately, the ET found that it was a failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

It's important there that that adjustment wouldn't cost them any money. It wouldn't have cost anything. It was really just about supporting the employee. So very, very simple things can go a long way.

Another case, trainee solicitor in England, this was as an Employment Appeal Tribunal case from 2017. The title of the case is Government Legal Services against Brooks. A trainee solicitor was applying for a training contract and, as part of that process, had to complete a multiple-choice questionnaire. She was autistic and she made a request for a reasonable adjustment to be made because, specifically, the multiple-choice questionnaire caused difficulties and problems.

She made a disclosure in respect of her condition. However, that wasn't facilitated and, again, it was upheld that that was a failure to make a reasonable adjustment.

A more sort of recent case and sort of more serious implications arising from a failure to make a reasonable adjustment related to City of York v Grosset. This is a well-publicised case. It's a Court of Appeal case from England relating to a teacher who had, again, disclosed the condition and had been dismissed from his employment as a result of providing sort of source materials. I think it was a film that was provided to a class that would have been considered inappropriate because it was a horror film and there was maybe violence in it and things like that.

But the award on that one was . . . the Court of Appeals said that if there was a finding in respect of wrongdoing in terms of the liability, the award would have been at £646,000. What they said was that this was a position whereby if adjustments had have been made, the likelihood was that the dismissal wouldn't have come around as a result of that.

So it's sort of just to highlight the problems that arise, and hopefully later on I'll touch on another case, a local case here in Northern Ireland.

It's important that employers come to the table, I think, with neurodiverse employees with an open mind and that they are taking their steps in terms of their obligations under the legislation to make those reasonable adjustments. And again, just underlining that point, it doesn't mean that it's going to be a cost or any kind of significant cost. It's coming back to that aspect of looking at what is reasonable. But it's just to give you a flavour of that.

Scott: Thank you very much. If you just joined us, that was Seamus McGranaghan from O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors, and we also have Louise McQuillan from Texthelp.

Louise, this question just came in on the question box there.

Stress and Anxiety Disorders

Can I ask Louise if OCD and/or anxiety disorders would be classed as neurodiverse conditions?

Louise: I mean, they can . . . particularly anxiety, it may not be classed as a neurodiverse condition, but it is definitely a symptom of sometimes reactions to neurodiverse conditions. If you look sort of the scenario we've had really over the past six months, if somebody has a particular way of working in the office, their desk is set up a certain way, they have all the support they need, but all of a sudden, they been told to work from home, it's a different environment.

I've sort of worked between two different rooms, trying to find the best setup for me, but if that is making somebody feel uncomfortable, perhaps it's not the optimum space they can be working in, that can cause them a lot of anxiety.

So it's certainly about providing supports that negates that anxiety so that you're not feeling that anxiety, if that makes sense.

Scott: Yeah, do you have any examples? Because I suppose the generalisation is that people on the autism spectrum, if you want . . . I don't know about the language, so maybe we can have a discussion about how to use the language. But if you're on the spectrum, one of the generalisations is that you like to do things a certain way, you have a routine, and all that kind of thing. And everyone's routine has been turned upside down.

So are there things that you're aware of that employers might have done to help neurodiverse employees when the world is turned upside down and they're working from home and they don't have those supports?

Maybe I'll put it out to the audience as well. If you've any things that you've tried or anything that you've suggested with your employees, maybe you can just drop those in the question box as a suggestion and we'll come back to those if there are any.

But, Louise,

Providing Support for Remote Workers with a Neurodiversity

Have you got anything there with the people that you work with of additional support or whatever from working from home?

Louise: Yeah, definitely. And actually, what we have found is around the March and April time, we were seeing enquiries for support that necessarily might not have been sort of a hot topic or a big agenda. I mean, certainly, one of the things that we were starting to see coming through is people were asking for support to read information aloud and process certain information.

What you would find in the workplace environment . . . say you have been given a report to review or to make notes on, you would print that off and sit at your desk with your highlighters and make notes on the side of that report or pull out information that would be relevant.

But for a lot of people working from home, they didn't have access to a printer, so they were having to read that report on the screen, which, you know yourself, some reports that are shared can be 30, 40, 50 pages-plus. So that was causing a lot of eyestrain for individuals. They were having to spend a lot of time looking at the screen.

So what we were able to do with our solution is provide the text-to-speech tool, so actually, you could listen to that information being read aloud whilst also maybe replying to an email or making notes separately.

We also had research tools, which meant you can highlight information, actually, within the document without printing that and collect all that information separately. So that was really helping individuals process that information in a different way.

And even looking at for individuals with dyslexia, that audio support can be really beneficial because it means you're not having to struggle through huge pieces of text to try and understand the information.

Even with the change of people working from home, you were starting to get policies being sent out about your working from home policy, COVID policy. It just seemed there were a lot of updates coming through. So we've started to see a lot of interest, actually, from software companies who traditionally are working with a lot of staff who are coders, developers, they're used to working in such specific language.

But what we have found is they are seeing neurodiverse traits coming through from a lot of their staff, but they have to share these COVID policies, their working from home policies. But for them, reading tonnes and tonnes of information isn't what they want to do. So we are then able to provide them, again, with that text-to-speech, the Audio Maker tools, so really providing those alternative solutions to process information in a way that benefits them.

Scott: Yeah, one of the things we're doing for the Annual Review this year is working with Think People. We have just done a survey of customers about what they've done to engage remote working staff and what they've been doing over the last however many months, it seems like years, since the lockdown that we've had.

But I don't think that we covered issues like that, that there may be things that we're doing as employers just trying to keep people up to date, which is actually making matters worse if we don't provide some additional support, like the things you've been chatting about, that you can listen to the document, or providing extracts, or whatever it happens to be. I've never really thought about you're making it worse by trying to help people.

Louise: It's one of those things obviously as an organisation you want to equip yourself with as much information and make sure that they're aware of information and support that's available to them. But if I look at my day today, I was on two video calls before today's webinar, I have another video call after this, and I have another video call in the afternoon. That's four calls where you're looking at the screen all day, plus on top of any work that you've got to do. I think we've all sort of started to struggle from that video fatigue.

So, if you're staring at a screen all day and then reading information on a screen, you start to actually . . . it all sort of blends into one. And if you have a neurodiverse condition, where maybe attention deficit disorder can be the condition, maybe your inbox is filling up, your video calls, and you have things to do, it's hard to actually focus. Where is your attention meant to be? "Am I focussing here today, on this today?"

Working from home as well . . . I'm sure this is actually something probably everybody has really felt. The lines become slightly blurred of home and work. So you'll find that people who maybe have a project they're working on end up working even longer because they won't finish and there's no break from home and work.

So, again, going back to the question that somebody had put forward about anxiety and timekeeping, those are all becoming key issues, which again are all related to many of the neurodiverse conditions.

I mean, the sort of general statistic is that there's one in seven people that have a neurodiverse condition. So, if you're thinking of your staff numbers, there may be two, three, four, and possibly more people who are struggling inside just to try and keep up with the demands of kind of the new normal, I suppose to say, of day-to-day work.

Scott: Yeah, it's kind of tough. Seamus, moving back to you, we've got a number . . . Louise just said there one in seven people or whatever are likely to have some kind of neurodiverse condition, which means that they may well be struggling if they're working from home or if the systems have changed and they don't have those kind of supports. But unfortunately, for employers, quite a lot of employees don't disclose that they've got any kind of neurodiverse condition and they don't want their colleagues to be aware of that.

Knowledge of Disability

So what are the implications for employers if the information is held from them by the employee and they don't know that somebody is autistic or whatever it happens to be on the neurodiverse range? And what difficulties might an employer have if it comes to other employees who have difficulties? We have a question coming up about that, but if the employees don't know that somebody is disabled and the employer doesn't know that somebody is disabled, where does that leave the employee on the spectrum and where does that leave the employer?

Seamus: Well, I suppose that the case law is developing in relation to this specific area, and as the case law develops, it appears to be certainly that it seeks to protect the employee. I think there's definitely a fine balance of . . . I could very much understand why a neurodiverse employee would not want to disclose to an employer that they have a certain condition.

You could imagine yourself as not wanting . . . or feeling that they've got a job, they're pleased to have the job, and then they don't want to advise the employer that they've got a condition that may impact upon their ability to do the job. It's really that point that Louise was saying, about they're having to work at 120% in order to keep up and that feeling of having to keep up all the time.

So, look, it is difficult. The employer is in a difficult position if they're not aware of the condition. But I think the key aspect has to be that there needs to be more training. There needs to be more awareness for employers, because if we're moving in a direction where ultimately the courts and tribunals are saying that the responsibility is on the employer in those circumstances, even if they're not aware . . .

There's the local case, it's a July '19 case. I think it was an Equality Commission backed case that ended up at the Court of Appeal. I would call it Meier v BT, and this was a situation that's slightly different in the sense that it was around a recruitment process.

But the question considered by the Court of Appeal was whether there had been a failure to make reasonable adjustments by an employer in relation to a job applicant that had Asperger's Syndrome. And BT were the recruiter. They were using an online SSP test, as it was known, as part of the recruitment process, and the applicant received a low score and was rejected for the job.

He argued then that the test was inappropriate for people that were on the autism spectrum and that reasonable adjustments should have been made. BT's sort of response to that was that the test was part of their minimum requirements for the role and that the applicant should have made them aware of what adjustments that he required.

But the Court of Appeal said, "That's not so", and it held that the SSP test was a form of psychometric test, that the questions could be interpreted as ambiguous, contradictory, and requiring judgements to be made on missing information.

And they said that the applicant's condition meant that he was placed at a substantial disadvantage as he was unable to, and I'm quoting this, "read between the lines", and that was part of the condition. The court actually held that the onus was on BT to identify reasonable adjustments that were required and it wasn't for the employee to inform BT of those.

So, that case, it's a local case, it's a recent case, and I think that it does show the direction that the courts and the tribunals are moving in here, which is to protect the neurodiverse employee and even at a point where the employer wasn't aware.

So key for all of this has to be that there has to be formal training in place for managers. Managers need to be able to . . . where conditions maybe haven't been disclosed, they need to be aware so that they can spot where issues are going to arise.

I don't know whether Louise would agree with me on this, but most of these problems seem to come to a point where issues haven't been disclosed and the employee ends up in a performance meeting or they're looking at some sort of PIP.

And then there's a panic where the employee does make a disclosure and then the employer is panicked by the fact that they've taken the steps and it can be looked at punitive, or are they discriminating against the employee because of steps they've taken?

So it's a balance because you understand the sensitivities on the employee's side, and I think that the employer has to open their mind. They have to have had appropriate training. They have to have an awareness and understanding so that they can spot these issues arise and deal with them before they get to a position whereby they're having to go down performance improvement programmes and things like that.

Scott: Can I maybe just come in there, Seamus, because there are a couple of questions that are coming in. But effectively, I think what you're saying there is that the courts are saying that if the employer didn't know, they should have known. And in the case of BT, the fact that they're setting this psychometric test, they should know that there will be neurodiverse claimants or applicants coming in and, therefore, they would have to make reasonable adjustments knowing that those people are coming forward.

That seems to be the thrust of what you're saying there, that if you've got an employee that you think they're neurodiverse, then you should be aware or should do something to raise that and maybe check and not just assume that they're not because they haven't told you.

But there's a question just come in there.

What did the tribunal say BT should have put in place during the recruitment exercise in the event there are no disclosures until after the test?

What were they saying was reasonable? Can you remember that in the case itself, in the Meier and BT?

Seamus: I can't remember off the top of my head what they said, but the general gist of the situation was that exactly what you said, that there should be an awareness in putting forward the test that they did, this SSP test or the SPP test, that it wasn't going to be acceptable or helpful or usable for everybody, and their obligation was to look around that and to produce something that would assist neurodiverse applicants.

Scott: Okay. Louise, let me turn it to you there. We've got another question that's just come in on the question box, and it says,

Adjusting Recruitment Procedures for Applicants with a Neurodiversity

Do you have any guidance or advice as to how an employer can adjust their recruitment processes to help attract or support people with neurodiverse conditions, particularly at the moment where everything is working from home?

So have you had any experiences there where people . . . people are still recruiting, albeit there are redundancies going on all over the place. Is there anything an employer could do in their ads or in the way that they work or in the processes that they have that say, "Look, we are neurodiverse-friendly", or, "We have things in place that will help"? Is there anything that you're aware of?

Louise: We're kind of in a position now where neurodiversity is becoming a bigger sort of topic. And looking at internally what Texthelp have done over the past years, we've tried to provide resources that can give a bit of help and guidance on certain conditions. I think you've just maybe brought that up on the slide now. So we have an Unlocking Neurodiversity Guide, which really breaks down some of the neurodiversities, the benefits that they can bring to the organisation, and certain things that you can try.

But even looking beyond the sort of resources that we're looking at, there are schemes out there again . . . I don't know if everyone is aware of this, the Disability Confident Scheme. So, again, that's a much broader scheme that looks at working with organisations to make them fully inclusive from a disability point of view.

And just to sort of touch on what Seamus was saying there about how it can sometimes get to the breaking point before needs are addressed, if you look at the organisations in physical buildings before, if you're creating a building or an office space, you're considering ramps into your building, you're considering lifts in your building, your considering the size of door frames, all the physical disabilities in mind. So, if you're thinking already of those physical disabilities, it really should be something that you think of in terms of those hidden disabilities to actually make sure that you have in place those supports for individuals. So that's just something to be mindful of.

Again, every organisation is slightly different in terms of the way you recruit and in terms of the way you advertise. So it is mindful to think of if you're putting information on your website, for example, is your website accessible? Have you hidden it on the 35th page down a career's website? So, for somebody with a processing condition, they may never actually get to see that CV, to see that job description, because it's maybe hidden in so many different spaces or it's diverted off another page or it's hidden somewhere else.

So even thinking about your website as well, not just even your physical office space, because your website, in many cases, is your shop front, especially now with COVID, where everything is online and people are accessing your website for support.

We do provide a website support tool called Browsealoud. Since COVID, we've seen a 50% increase in our usage. Because everything is going online, there is no other way to access services, so even thinking about things like that and making your recruitment process inclusive can really help.

Scott: Okay. Thank you very much, Louise. We just had more of a comment come in there from someone who works at Specialisterne, who are a fine organisation based up at Queen's. They primarily assist autistic people with employment programmes and issues. However, they also assist companies with rolling out awareness training to other employees. So it's worth checking them out and you can get help with them. I've dealt with Specialisterne in the past. They're a fine organisation that's coming in there.

Seamus, there's a question in here. I suppose it cuts across a number of things that we're looking at.

Data Protection Implications

We have complaints from colleagues of a particular staff member whom we are aware has Asperger's Syndrome that's difficult to work with and not much of a team player. How do we handle this while not disclosing their neurodiversity?

Which I'm assuming here that they've said they don't want to disclose. Are there competing rights here, because health is a special category or sensitive data under the Data Protection Act?"

It's kind of hard. It throws up that difficult thing for employers where the employee is saying, "I don't want you to tell anybody", and the employees are going, "This chap is really hard. He's not a team player, doesn't join in, doesn't help us", type of stuff, but they don't know that he's got a disability. How does an employer deal with that?

Seamus: Yeah, it is difficult. I've come across cases in the past where there are those issues that have arisen. I think that, absolutely, the neurodiverse employee has a right of privacy in respect of their condition, and if they're not content or not happy for it to be discussed on a wider basis, maybe other than management, I think that that does need to be respected.

But I think then it puts the obligation on the employer. Again, it's a point for the employer to assess the situation and to work with both employees, if you have two employees that are maybe butting heads, or it's maybe bringing it to the attention of neurodiverse employee, discussing it with them, and seeing if there's a discussion to be had around how that can be improved.

Again, it's the fear factor that we've talked about of approaching and having those open discussions with neurodiverse employees in case that you're offending or in case that you are stepping into the realms of harassment or discrimination.

But from an employer's perspective, I think it's about taking a step back and it's about reviewing the processes that are in place and seeing if there are steps that can be made to improve those aspects of teamwork and things like that. What are the stumbling blocks that are in place?

Maybe as a result of the condition that's just not something that's going to be possible, and maybe that just needs to be faced up with and dealt with, and that other employees are notified that that's not going to happen.

But typical things that you would look at would be to make sure that employers are giving clear instructions to employees, that they are not overloading them with work, and that they're providing environments that are free from distractions and allowing staff to channel themselves into the tasks that they excel at rather than demanding good performance for tasks that they're less suited to.

So I think there's a responsibility on the employer to deal with the issues that arise. I'm not saying that you're going to get a perfect solution in relation to it, but I think it's about being open and having those conversations and making sure that there's good communication.

Certainly, I'm not advocating at any point that any employer would go to an employee and cause offence. It certainly is a balance and there's sensitivity around it, as I said.

But if you end up at a tribunal, the responsibility under the legislation is for the employer to provide those reasonable adjustments, and that has to come via discussion with the employee, or alternatively maybe looking for advice outside of that, whether it's medical advice or maybe advice from another third party, such as the organisations that we've talked about. But there has to be a key to unlocking that, and I do think that that does fall to the responsibility of the employer, bearing in mind again that we are talking about reasonable adjustments.

Scott: Okay. Louise, finally, I suppose, dealing with that, the other side of that coin is that there's maybe a responsibility on the individual. Because if nobody else in the organisation knows that you have a condition, then don't be surprised if they don't treat you the way that you might hope. Do you have any experience here?

You deal with individuals . . . and I know that Read&Write packets that you have, you've used that in the police . . . was it South Yorkshire or something that you used before? And everybody has it and therefore nobody is pointing it out, "Oh, you've got dyslexia", or whatever. Everybody uses this package that helps the reports become better.

Well, what about those individuals as well who maybe it's getting them over the edge to say, "Yeah, I've got this thing and I'm not afraid to show it"? Do you ever deal with those things in Texthelp?

Louise: Yeah, definitely. As Seamus was pointing out, obviously the organisation does have to sort of raise that awareness, and it is very much on them to create that culture of openness and that you can come for support.

I think just when you touched on South Yorkshire police, it was something they did incredibly well. They were very much focussed on diversity and inclusion across the board, so all your sort of main topics that fall under that, disability, LGBT, race, gender. They were doing a lot of work on each of those, so they have kind of the base and the framework in place.

And one story that South Yorkshire shared with us was that there was one particular individual who had been in the police force for, I think, about 20 years. So they had come up through the ranks. They had started out as a PC, out on foot, and over the years had progressed their career to a very high profile senior role.

All of a sudden, their job shifted from doing sort of quick reports on cases and putting notes in sort of shorthand and having that sort of data to, all of a sudden, they were having to write reports, they were having to speak to media, they were having to speak to various other stakeholders within the police.

They started to feel this sort of sense of pressure and, as you had talked about before, anxiety. All of a sudden, writing this report became such a huge thing. And they had spoken to somebody within the organisation who was aware that South Yorkshire police provided disability support.

So, again, they went and got tested. I think they were in their late 40s, early 50s, and they were diagnosed with dyslexia. And all of a sudden, it was that light bulb moment where this all makes sense now.

He had coped for so long, doing what he had to do to get through his job, but just with that change in his job and the pressures that perhaps came with it, his dyslexia was heightened.

So, within days, he was able to get the support he needed and he was up and running. South Yorkshire Police had already rolled out our Read&Write offer to all staff, because they wanted it to be a case of, "Nobody should have to come forward if the support is already available for them". So they were able to get him his training. He had all the resources available there.

So, again, as much as we talk about these certain conditions, many people aren't even aware they have the condition. As an organisation, you've done all that work, you've promoted support that's available, but an individual might not even know it's something they have.

Just something that I've actually been watching in the past couple of weeks . . . I don't know if your audience have caught it, but definitely go back and have a look at a show called "The Write Offs", which was on Channel 4.

It really gives you an insight into how somebody with dyslexia sort of goes through day-to-day life, certain things that we take for granted. If somebody gives you a shopping list, you can go into the supermarket and pick everything out, but for some people, that's a real struggle.

And there was one story actually in particular in this TV show where there was an individual, he was an English and drama teacher, and he had a stroke and he basically said that all the words just fell out of his head. So it was taking him so much more time to try and relearn these words.

Again, although somebody may not have had a condition from birth, they may work for you for 10 or 15 years, and all of a sudden, something has changed for them and they're not sure how best to address that or how best to come forward.

So, again, it's really gone back to keeping the conversation channels open. Having disability champions is a big, big thing that we're seeing more and more. There's maybe one or two people that it's not obvious if you're going to speak to them, because I think even . . . Some people say, "Oh, that's an HR function". People get a bit scared talking to HR sometimes. It does seem a bit overwhelming or they may be scared that it will come at the bigger issue.

So, yeah, there are loads of other stories we have like that as well, but that was just one in particular with South Yorkshire that we had worked with.

Scott: Okay. Thank you very much, Louise. Thank you very much to Seamus McGranaghan as well from O'Reilly Stewart, and that was Louise McQuillan from Texthelp. You can get in touch with them in a minute.

The Annual Review thing is up there. It's coming up on 4th and 5th. It's on a fantastic thing called Hopin. You can do all the networking and you can meet all the people. Seamus is going to be there. He's talking about employment status and employment rights and off that Uber stuff and IR35s and the like.

We also have a reasonable adjustment . . . just for Rolanda . . . a reasonable adjustment paper that Rolanda and Adam Brett from Jones Cassidy Brett have been working on that we intend sharing with everybody. And it includes things that the tribunals and the courts have decided have been reasonable adjustments over the years, not just on neurodiversity, but on all kinds of physical disabilities and such like as well. So look out for that paper at the Annual Review and hopefully we'll see you there.

That's the contacts if you want to get in touch with anybody. We'll send the slides on.

We will see you on the 6th when it's back to usual. It's any question you have. It will be the day after the two days of the online Annual Reviews, so we might be a bit tired, but other than that, we'll still be here at 11:00.

You can catch up with all the playbacks and such like on the Legal-Island website if you go into the Employment Law Hub and search for Seamus.

We'll see you later. Thanks, Louise. Thanks, Seamus. See you all later.

Seamus: Thank you.

Louise: Thanks, everyone.

Seamus: Bye.

This article is correct at 02/10/2020

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Seamus McGranaghan
O'Reilly Stewart Solicitors

The main content of this article was provided by Seamus McGranaghan. Contact telephone number is 028 9032 1000 or email

View all articles by Seamus McGranaghan