Ayup! – I’ve been sent down the A-Road by my employer

Hello All, I am a female civil engineering technician from the East Midlands with over 16 years experience of highways, rail, drainage etc. and I have recently been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) aged 39.

My journey began when I was signed off work with anxiety and depression in the summer. Things hadn’t been going well with the job. There had been a number of fall-outs with others, misunderstandings and so on. In fact, I have struggled to keep a job all my working life.

While I was off, one of the associate directors where I work suggested that I use the time to reflect on what triggers my stress/anxiety. Instantaneously, I said ‘noise’ in reply and mentioned that my desk neighbour’s constant, vibrating, push notifications were reverberating through my arms and driving me to despair.

Anyway, I began to research online and as one of the many things that I have been criticised about by my managers is being overly sensitive, eventually I came across some research by Elaine N. Aron concerning the use of fMRI scans to measure empathy and her theories concerning “highly sensitive persons” “affected by sensory processing sensitivity that makes them more emotional” in the Daily Mail.

I completed the questionnaire on her website and scored very highly and then when reading the FAQ section afterwards, I came across this question: How does sensitivity differ from Autistic spectrum disorders (Asperger’s Syndrome, etc.)?

In the meantime, my employer wasn’t satisfied with the two occupational health professional’s reports they had previously commissioned so they arranged for me to see a neuropsychiatrist who eventually diagnosed me after an appointment that I made privately as my employers didn’t want to pursue it any further once told after their initial probe that ASD was more than probable.

Once ASD had been alluded to, my employer attempted reductionism by means of soliciting the advice of an ergonomist, someone who would normally deal with display screen assessments and seated posture, interestingly, also behavioural safety in relation to the design of nuclear plant control panels and software interfaces - just not autism.

I am grateful to my employer in that I now know why I am a serial leg bouncer and chair rocker. In fact, my earliest memory is looking down on a pair of socks pulled right up to my knees and the obligatory pair of 1970’s t-bar shoes and having my legs smacked by a well-meaning aunt who insisted that I must behave and keep still!

However, I have encountered an awful lot of ignorance and prejudice at work having been accused of trying to use my disability to my advantage in order to see the psychiatrists reasonable adjustments concerning a quiet working environment implemented.

I have engaged with ACAS to try and get my employer to compromise over my environment but they say that letting me work out of one of their 4 x quiet rooms which are empty 99% of the time would be too disruptive to the business.

Also, I made a business case for flexible working from home by means of a statutory request following the Stevenson and Farmer review of mental health at work on the basis that I wouldn’t need time off with anxiety and depression if I were allowed to work in an environment conducive to my needs but to no avail.

I am currently signed off by my GP researching employment law precedents and waiting for the employer to conclude its deliberations and inform me of their decision in writing.

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  • I'm hypersensitive to noise too. Two of the adjustments I have are fixed time in a private office to carry out admin. I also have a working from home day each week to help me manage my anxiety. I work in HE and private space is very hard to come by but I've found if an employer wants to implement these things they'll find a way. Although I have worked in very supportive environments, I've also worked with some numpties who go out of their way to make things difficult.

    Have you contacted Access to Work (A2W) for a free independent assessment of the support you need? As well as recommending RA they may also pay for certain support, such as autism awareness training for your employer. The report from A2W will also be useful if you have to take things outside of the institution. Another useful support mechanism I've found is taking a union representative to meetings with you. They can be a lot more assertive with your manager.
    If your employer continues to refuse to make adjustments to allow you to work in a quieter work environment I would follow your employer's formal grievance procedure. If they feel that they cannot give you the adjustments you need (or they just don't want to help and would rather terminate your contract) you may be offered a settlement agreement to leave - usually 6 months salary. Once you have worked through the complaint procedure if you do not have a satisfactory outcome you can then take them to an employment tribunal
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