Key HR Policies For Creating A Safer Workplace For Employees with ASD

By: Jackie Edwards

June 4, 2020

Over 3.5 million Americans are diagnosed on the autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and these individuals currently remain one of the most valuable yet untapped workforces out there. Yet, many of those with autism continue to experience difficulties either joining or thriving in the workforce. Approximately 85 percent of graduates with autism are unemployed, according to recent workforce estimates. Of the 15 percent that do go on to gain employment, unique workplace challenges such as communication, social interaction, and time management barriers can often impact their work performance, career progression, and future at the company. As awareness of developmental disorders grows, employers are now faced with the task of developing an ASD-friendly workplace and creating HR policies that support their employees on the spectrum so as to avoid potential accidents in the workplace or other issues.


Implement A Regular Workplace Environment Sensory Review Policy

Employees with ASD often encounter either hypersensitivities or hypo sensitivities to stimuli like sights, sounds, or touch. To provide adequate accommodation for such employees, start with identifying their sensitivities during the onboarding process. Employers can also review the workplace atmosphere for any triggers and implement safeguards such as providing visual supports to aid information processing, opting for dimmed lights in the office, or providing dedicated soundproofed areas for loud noises. Alternatively, Human Resources can also implement an ask before touching policy to promote personal space in the workplace. 


Enforce A Strict Anti- Bullying Policy In The Office

Even without being affected by ASD, 49 percent of Americans have been affected by bullying in the workplace according to the Waitt Institute For Violence Prevention’s statistics. In addition to being harmful to the mental health of employees and the morale within the workplace, bullying can also instill a culture of fear and stress for employees. Workplace bullying can take a different form than the traditional in-school bullying. Colleagues may exclude employees with ASD from meetings or projects, cite their disability as a reason for persistent exclusions for contributions, or overlook them for promotions.  

HR can update the company’s employee handbook to include company-wide anti-bullying reporting policies, such as a confidential reporting corporate hotline and other support mechanisms extending to the employee’s immediate family. For instance, providing go-to resources and an information hub to help employees cope with their child’s prognosis. As much as 63 percent of children with autism are bullied, which can affect their parent’s performance at work and even be the cause of workplace bullying for the employee themselves. Fostering a culture of inclusivity and communicating with your staff the strong repercussions and low tolerance level of such behavior in the workplace can also help in getting the message across. 


Offer A Specialized Employee Recruitment And Support Process

Candidates with autism can present great employability characteristics during the recruitment process including detailed technological knowledge or high levels of accuracy. However, to unlock these benefits, employers must first be able to identify the right support these employees require. When recruiting an employee on the ASD spectrum, HR should offer an alternative recruitment policy. During the interview process, offer alternatives to the traditional interview process for those that may have social anxieties or trouble with communication such as the option to have an accompanying supporter or offering a phased introduction into the workplace. 

In the employee onboarding process, have your HR department include a standard section on employee distraction or triggers to better understand the employee. This helps the organization implement the appropriate safeguards if not already in place. For instance, an individual employee ID indicating their exceptional needs or sensitivities.


Offer Autism Awareness Training 

One of the challenges faced by employees with autism is difficulty identifying danger. As a  result, some employees can pose a safety risk to themselves or their colleagues in the workplace. By providing autism awareness training for all employees, employers can improve their knowledge and present solutions in any potentially harmful situations. Autism awareness training in the workplace seeks to disseminate useful information on interacting with colleagues in a mode of communication everyone can understand. 

Another bonus of providing such training to your employees is that it also trains other employees on what to look out for such as signs of an anxiety attack, sensory issue, or a potentially harmful safety issue. By being trained in this, managers and colleagues are more likely to seek help and implement measures when needed to keep the workplace — and the workers — safe.

 

While those on the autism spectrum may face unique challenges in and out of the workplace, they can also end up being invaluable assets with the right support in place. By implementing HR policies such as these, employers can take the first steps to overcoming the continuing bias that employees with autism face.