Hi, my name is Spencer I’m 24 and from Wales. I would like to begin my story when I started my first full-time, apprenticeship with HMRC as an admin officer. I was very excited to have been successful in becoming an apprentice in an award-winning government department in HMRC; with the support from Prince’s Trust Cymru. Which I worked very hard to have been successful in overcoming long-term unemployment and completing the lengthy application and interview process. For example, I spent so much of my time volunteering to develop my interpersonal, communication and social skills.
My most memorable opportunities of being proactive and developing my CV before starting the apprenticeship. Includes volunteering in Africa with The Safe Foundation for 2 weeks. Became a committee member of a local astronomy club and had the chance to meet Astronaut Tim Peake. Developed leadership, public speaking and networking skills, when I participated in a flagship youth leadership programme called UpRising Cymru. Being a part of School of Hard Knocks 2017 which was a stepping stone to training alongside BBC Alfie’s Army for Cardiff Half-Marathon 2017 which I completed in 2 hours, 56 minutes.
I began HMRC induction in September 2017. Where I had to undertake a week-long session of online learning about policies, legislation and simulated scenarios that I was likely to encounter during my duties as an admin officer. I did struggle to process the vast amount of information and integrate into the office environment. However, there was a line manager that provided a thorough introduction explaining the apprenticeship scheme and HMRC duties. This line manager I would later confide in. However, in November I was on sick for 10 days with a respiratory infection and returned to hear the news that I was going on a deployment to DWP and only had a week to prepare and plan how I was going to spend my evenings after work.
Upon being deployed to Bristol at a temporary Universal Credit service centre; situations arose where I was put out of my comfort zone without adequate support. I also realise now that I’ve experienced what many autistics call; information overload, meltdowns and reacted with erratic/challenging behaviour. For example, I reacted irrationally to a number of taunts and complaints by colleagues upon carrying out my duties of providing customer service to the public. Some erratic behaviour includes; the purchase of an adult movie at a hotel under Redfern booking, drinking rum and coke excessively. However, I felt many of the complaints against me were trumped up because I witnessed many acts of misconduct committed by other former colleagues that weren’t properly investigated.
Despite, being subjected to frequent formal meetings throughout DWP deployment which I felt were undermining my confidence, wellbeing and health. In March 2018, I was invited to a number of disciplinary meetings. Which was an opportunity to address the fact that I was pursuing a diagnosis for an underlying medical condition because a colleague pointed out strong traits of autism that may be influencing my difficult behaviour. The strong traits that were indicated to me were deficits in social interaction, echolalia, stimming, problems with relationships, romance, sense of danger, startled by smells and noise.
Later on, in March, I was prescribed sertraline 50mg by my GP. I confided in one of my supportive managers about my previous struggles in school, health and family life. I also started as recommended the workplace wellness scheme where I began cognitive behavioural therapy sessions and online workshops, which taught me about the downward spiral and how to effectively challenge negative feelings. Although I was beginning to establish a good level of understanding with my therapist it was cut short because of the following disciplinary meetings.
My first disciplinary meeting was with a senior executive officer who was preparing to transfer to DWP. It was my belief that after 6 months they found the job with HMRC to be extremely stressful and wanted to transfer to a lower grade and a more customer-service oriented role within the Civil Service. I found this meeting to be quite relaxing and less intimidating than the next following meetings with the business support manager. This senior executive officer questioned me about many reported misconducts but also praised me with feedback from DWP mentors. Additionally, this was the first meeting where I stressed that I was pursuing a diagnosis for autism which I felt influenced much of my erratic behaviour whilst on deployment in Bristol.
My final disciplinary meeting was on 23/04/2018. I took further notice of my circumstances when my sibling was diagnosed with autism in April 2018. She was surprised too because throughout her late 20’s she’d spent frequent periods at many mental health wards across South Wales and then to be diagnosed at the age of 30. Initially, during the final disciplinary meeting, I felt so anxious because the decision maker was patronizing, obtuse and claimed to be an expert on autism. So, on 30th April I received the outcome that I’m to be dismissed without pay in lieu of notice for making inappropriate and offensive racial/nationality remarks to colleagues, which caused them upset and offence, whilst on deployment.
Additionally, during my outcome meeting the business support manager threatened prosecution by the police if I was to break confidentiality act about my duties and than I was escorted out, by the prep walk which I felt was very humiliating and then to tell my mother that I was dismissed was upsetting because she said now I’m back in poverty. I visited my GP again and had my sertraline dosage increased to 100mg. I spoke to my therapist with workplace wellness who said I won’t be able to continue with cognitive behavioural therapy because my contract of employment had ended and the main reason she emphasised on ending the scheme was the increase in dosage. I would not be able to identify emotions because of feeling numb. Which would prevent me from using a variety of techniques to challenge my anxiety and depression.
Several days later I drafted and sent my appeal letter to HMRC. Which I stated I’m appealing against the decision-making process because no HR specialist was present and they did not take into consideration my numerous warnings of pursuing a diagnosis for autism. What I felt demoralising was an instant feeling of betrayal when one of the supportive line managers who refused to chat with me during my final days with HMRC sent me a WhatsApp message. On the day I sent my appeal letter, the line manager asked if it was okay to collect a digital tablet (HMRC work item) from me. My instincts were telling me they wanted to know if I had given up with the employment appeal.
My next step was to get another opinion on the decision to dismiss me which I sought from Citizens Advice Bureau and spoke with an employment law specialist. Who mentioned there was probably a decision made prior to disciplinary meetings by management to get rid of me and used the reason of upsetting colleagues by racial/nationality remarks as a way of getting rid of me despite learning that only 1 of the 3 reported incidents the people involved were actually upset. Additionally, I spoke with a DWP mentor that I befriended on Facebook who told me to stay strong and mentioned he did not like it when he saw me being the ‘butt of the joke and also said whenever I’d respond to a taunt they would not like it.
Meanwhile, obtaining medical evidence was problematic because I was on a waiting list for at least 2 months with the Integrated Autism Service and so I first sought a private health assessment. Upon attending I was notified the diagnosis would cost me £160 and a full written report £360. So I agreed to pay for a full report with the last of my earnings. To my misfortune, I did not fulfil the criteria for a formal diagnosis because my mother struggled to talk to the psychiatrist about my difficulties in childhood. However, my assessment score indicated that I’ve got strong autistic traits which were likely to have influenced my behaviour in the work environment.
Because of not getting a formal diagnosis with a private health consultant. I contacted Integrated Autism Service again to see if they can help with getting me an assessment much sooner. I told them about my circumstances such as going through a difficult employment dispute and they agreed to help by allocating me onto the priority list to get the next available appointment which was cancelled by someone else. Which was very helpful and instilled in me the belief to not abandon hope just yet.
The IAS assessment sessions were difficult for me because of having to remember my childhood, previous health concerns, talk about difficulties in making and sustaining friends and finding romance, etc. I was eventually diagnosed with Integrated Autism Service (NHS) on 07/06/2018. It became a bit of a shock; which caused me to burst into tears. Until I settled down and told my highly specialist occupational therapist and specialist autism nurse that this “This is not end or the beginning, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning” which they both burst out with amused laughter with my ability to remember historical quotes and memory skills. They ended the assessment by handing me useful leaflets and information to support services within the city centre.
Once, I was diagnosed with this medical condition I began to plan my next move. So I asked the appeal manager for the decision maker to confirm her statement about expertise in autism which was made in the presence of my trade union representative. Furthermore, I requested the decision maker to present evidence of medical qualifications and knowledge about the spectrum of autistic disorders.
As a member of PCS (trade union) I asked for more support but initially felt dissatisfied to be told that they were very busy with ballot elections, 5% pay rise; wage increase for civil servants. I recently became a member of the National Autistic Society; where I called a telephony advisor who signposted me services that could be of help to me such as:
Despite going through a difficult employment dispute with HMRC. This experience has been a big learning curve for myself struggling to come to terms with losing my job, getting help from a variety of support services, keeping mental wellbeing together, burnout and deflect many attempts to damage my reputation.
So now as a protected characteristic of the Equality Act 2010. The dilemma is that I remain hopeful that I can overturn the abysmal decision by the apparent autism expert (Business Support Manager) with growing confidence, continuing to work in defiance of ignorance or simply move on. A lot of my close friends suggest that I should just simply move on, “life is too short” and logically find employment somewhere else who’d value what I have to offer and have a thorough understanding of my health condition.
To conclude I’m keen to learn more about my health condition, disability rights and the impact of support services that assist autistics across Wales; If possible I’d be very happy to advocate the values of many services in an attempt to influence policy and secure investment for organisations that help autistic people.
Update, as of 24/07/2018:
Your experiences sound so amazing! Thanks for sharing. And best wishes for the future.
Thank you for the wishes!
Your work experiences sound very similar to mine.
Frequent formal meetings and disaplinary action over trivial autistic behaviour, double standards for us and favoured staff. And decisions to dismiss, being asked to leave etc. Difficulty getting help, as hoc disjointed help available. Multiple Mental health and employment advisors, cab not much help.
In my current job I am still waiting for my formal hearing. I expect dismissal by the back door. By that I mean, I expect to be let go when my probationary period ends. Rather than being offered the permanent position.
Hi Welsh Spencer! What an awful experience! But it seems to happen rather too often. I’ve not a lot to say except we seem to be damned if we do work and stuffed if we don’t! Well done for getting as far as you have with taking action. Open University sounds like a good idea.
What happened to you is very familiar to me. Don't you find it most annoying that it was ok for your colleagues to make fun of you, but anything you did was blown up into something huge, big enough for you to be dismissed, even though it was because of your condition? I have very little insight into the NT mind, after all, so I don't know whether people like that even have the capacity to realise how completely hypocritcal they are......
As for the tribunal claim, please don't procrastinate with that, because there are strict deadlines. Too many of us just take that treatment and move on without taking action, but I think that it just leaves others of us open to the same treatment. That is why I am fighting my case, and I think you should too.
I have recently learned quite a bit about how ACAS and Employment Tribunals work, so if you need advice building your case, or are still considering whether you want to do so, feel free to send me a PM.
Occasionally I can see into the future, and I am getting a very strong vibe right now that nothing will come of your appeal. Strangely enough I got the same vibe from my situation and it turned out I was correct. Fortunately, I had already started the Tribunal proceedings by that point anyway.
Hello Robert123, Its good to find people that I can easily relate to my current circumstances. I must ask, have you prepared a defence such as recording of audio/written information for a timeline of events, become a member of a trade union and informed a trusted senior member of management that you have a diagnosis?
Furthermore, when I was employed with HMRC. I did not speak with HR directly, who may have been able to mediate the situation much sooner. By diffusing situations, making reasonable adjustments with finding an advocate and set the score by sending managers to undertake training to understand autism in the workplace.
Please, do act sooner than later and keep us updated with your situation!
Hi Alice, thank you for the kind words. I do agree to live with autism in UK society is like playing with a double-edged sword, I do seek ways of participating in campaigns with NAS to make people aware of difficulties autistics have in the workplace!
I want to help raise awareness, but my extreme emotions often derail me and probably make me lose all my credibility. And jobs! All credit to you. You are doing a good thing.
Hello DragonCat16, I must apologise for the delayed response. When I first read your response I felt a deep rage to just reflect on my circumstance, hearing other autistic people who are experiencing the same treatment and don’t get the support that they need. The colleague’s messing me about is not the most annoying. I am deeply infuriated by the decision-maker’s statement at my disciplinary meeting where I listened to claim expertise on autism. Which was influenced by their brother’s diagnosis at the age of 2. Furthermore, during the Summer I was shocked to discover that the decision maker was promoted from Business Support Manager to Head of Business Support.
However, the positive moments I have had during this ordeal is reconnecting with The School of Hard Knocks. As I mentioned earlier, it’s a rugby development course, where 2 members of the leadership team are on the spectrum themselves. It’s good to receive on-going 1-2-1 support; Such as talking about my mental health issues, regulating emotions and discussing this conflicting feeling I experienced during my short stint in HMRC. Where I felt the need to make everyone like me including those that showed a genuine dislike of me. It was a pleasure to network with more inspiring people through this course and to take on the gruelling challenge of a group exercise at Merthyr Mawr, sand dunes in Ogmore Vale and than to complete the course with attending job’s fair and final game against an experienced team called the ‘Celtic Rail Barbarians RFC’.
I do agree with your advice on continuing the fight so that other autistics will not experience the same treatment. Yes, advice on ACAS and Employment Tribunals would be much appreciated. As my appeal meeting is on Friday, next week. But must take it easy as my coach from SoHK recommends I would not like to experience another burnout or information overload. Which is why I delayed my response to you because I struggle to regulate my emotions which could result in me behaving erratically or out of character. Last month, I did get into a big meltdown at my sister's house where I smashed a mug on the floor and caused an argument. Which caused me to feel deep regret afterwards and then having to apply for Universal Credit was debilitating. Although my relations with family have improved and am connecting with so many opportunities that will help to continue my personal development and develop new skills.
Nice to hear from you.
Here is an update on my situation.
The double standards I detest are still continuing.
Last week I was very sternly cautioned by a senior staff member for using my smartphone at work (I was looking at the weather forecast on the BBC website). A couple of hours later, the same member of staff was spending a very long time playing solitaire on her own phone.
Near the end of the shift she made it very clear that I had to stay for my full shift as in the rota. Just as she was leaving 10 minutes early.
I haven't been sacked yet. I am still on probation in my work, working under a different manager, since I was off sick and unable to work with my previous manager.
The new manager is just as bad. In my first meeting with him I was very nervous and stimming slightly by rotating my swivel chair a bit. To try to relax. This stimming has been included as evidence in writing in charges against me as having unacceptable behaviour.
My formal/final probation/disciplinary meeting ( where one option is DISMISSAL) has been delayed because going strictly by the rules they have to give me 10 days notice. On Monday I was asked if I was ready for Friday's meeting. I hadn't received any notice of any meeting and told them so. They pulled the letter from the computer and showed it to me. They had sent the formal letter to the wrong address.