Civil Rights Violations: Struggles Autistic Employees Face

Civil Rights Violations: Struggles Autistic Employees Face

Although many of us have heard of the phrasing “autism is a spectrum,” only now are people beginning to understand the myriad of ways autism affects different people. Since the first coining of the term in 1911 by German psychiatrist Eugen Bleuler, our understanding of this highly inheritable, neurodevelopmental disorder has gone far beyond the descriptor of schizophrenia.

In fact, now, the term has little to nothing to do with schizophrenic conditions at all. Additionally, as it has a clinical history rooted in evaluating mostly cisgender white males, it’s no wonder many allistic people still struggle to understand this diagnosis, especially with the current wave of late-diagnosed women and gender nonconforming people.

However, this isn’t a dive into the complexities of clinical histories and how the spectrum presents itself. Rather, we aim to dive into a relevantly more “modern issue.” With more people on the autism spectrum joining the workforce, we have to take a serious look at the civil rights struggles that autistic employees may face.

What Can We Define as a Civil Rights Violation?

Before we discuss the specific challenges autistic employees face, we must define what constitutes a civil rights violation in the workplace. A civil rights violation occurs when an employee receives unfair treatment or discrimination because of certain protected characteristics, such as race, gender, religion, or, in this context, disability. For autistic employees, such violations can manifest in various ways, which we’ll dive into throughout the rest of this article. Because the autism spectrum is so wide, the experiences of high support needs versus low support needs will also widely vary.

Lack of Reasonable Accommodations

One of the most significant challenges autistic employees face is the lack of reasonable accommodations in the workplace. Reasonable accommodations are modifications or adjustments to a job or work environment that enable an individual with a disability to have an equal opportunity to perform their job. For those with autism, this could include providing noise-canceling headphones or allowing for flexible scheduling. It can also include providing clearly written instructions for tasks instead of relying on verbal communication, which autistic individuals may sometimes misinterpret.

The problem that some autistic individuals face is that their needs don’t always present themselves in a manner that’s obvious or apparent to allistics. As a result, it may be difficult for people on the autism spectrum to communicate these needs, or an employer may deem it excessive or even unnecessary. Without these accommodations, autistic employees may find it difficult to perform to their full potential, leading to unnecessary stress and anxiety. Employers must understand and implement these accommodations, not just for legal compliance but to foster a truly inclusive and supportive work environment.

Discrimination Within the Hiring or Promotion Process

Another significant issue that autistic employees often encounter is discrimination during the hiring or promotion processes. This discrimination can stem from misconceptions about their capabilities or the stigmatization of autism. For instance, an employer might overlook a candidate with autism for a position due to atypical nonverbal communication during an interview despite possessing exceptional skills relevant to the job.

Similarly, within the workplace, autistic employees may miss the opportunity for promotions because of perceived social or communicative differences. To combat this form of discrimination, organizations must establish hiring and evaluation practices that focus on an individual’s qualifications and achievements rather than subjective assessments of social interaction.

Overly Harsh Performance Reviews

Autistic employees often face overly harsh performance reviews, which can significantly impact their career development and job satisfaction. This issue arises because performance evaluations sometimes don’t account for the unique challenges that autistic individuals may experience in the workplace. For instance, an autistic employee might receive unfair criticism for not participating in team meetings, where the real challenge could be due to difficulties with verbal communication.

Employers must adopt a more nuanced approach to performance reviews, recognizing the diverse strengths and challenges of autistic employees. This could involve setting clear, achievable goals and offering constructive feedback in a way that’s accessible and actionable. By doing so, employers can ensure that performance reviews are fair and productive, encouraging the growth and success of autistic employees in the workplace.

Disparity Within Job Assignments

Autistic employees may also encounter disparities in job assignments, which can limit their opportunities for career advancement and personal growth. Often, due to stigmatization, they may not receive tasks that match their skills and abilities or feel excluded from projects that could showcase their unique talents.

This situation undermines the potential contributions autistic individuals can make to their teams and reinforces negative stereotypes about autism. Managers and employers should actively involve autistic employees in a range of assignments and consider their individual strengths and interests when allocating tasks. By doing so, workplaces can become more inclusive and allow all employees, regardless of neurodiversity, to thrive and succeed.

Outright Verbal or Physical Abuse

Outright verbal or physical abuse is perhaps the most egregious form of discrimination that autistic employees can experience in the workplace. Such behavior may range from insensitive comments or jokes about one’s abilities to more severe instances of bullying or physical harassment. This form of discrimination creates a hostile and unsafe work environment and significantly impacts mental and physical health.

Employers must establish a zero-tolerance policy toward any form of abuse, ensuring that all employees, including those on the autism spectrum, feel valued, respected, and safe. Also, all staff should receive proper training in autism awareness and sensitivity to foster an atmosphere of understanding and inclusivity. Remember to include the opinions of autistic employees and how they wish for their coworkers to treat them.

Autistic employees may face a myriad of struggles and civil rights violations in the workplace, ranging from a lack of reasonable accommodations and discriminatory hiring practices to outright abuse.

Employers should understand the unique challenges autistic individuals may face and take proactive steps toward fostering an inclusive work environment. By doing so, companies can harness the full potential of their workforce, ensuring that every employee, regardless of neurodiversity, has the opportunity to thrive and contribute to their fullest extent.

If you believe your workplace is discriminating against autistic employees or you’ve been a victim of this form of discrimination, the Law Firm of Tamara N Holder can help. Our team of civil rights attorneys in Washington State works to uphold the rights of every employee.

Civil Rights Violations: Struggles Autistic Employees Face

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