'Late for everything' | Neurodiverse worker's poor timekeeping led to unfair sacking, judge rules

Neurodiverse worker's poor timekeeping led to unfair sacking, judge rules

An employer who sacked a neurodiverse worker because of their frequent impunctuality should have made reasonable adjustments to support them, a tribunal has ruled.

Security guard Raymond Joseph Bryce said he had been discriminated against after he told bosses his dyslexia meant he “would be late for his own funeral”.

Bryce, who also has Aspergers Syndrome, told bosses at Sentry Consulting that his conditions left him 'disorganised' and that he often misread his alarm clock in the morning.

He had asked his managers at the private security firm for a grace period of 15-20 minutes in the mornings, should he turn up late, but after a string of incidents they instead stopped assigning him shifts.

He accused them of discrimination and failing to make reasonable adjustments for his disability.

Bryce's claims were upheld by an employment tribunal, with the panel concluding his dyslexia made it difficult for him to maintain the organisation levels of a neurotypical employee.

The panel heard Bryce began working shifts for Sentry Consulting in December 2020, but was late on three occasions in the first three weeks of the job, prompting his managers to call him in for a meeting, at which point he explained how his neurodiversity would impact him.

Speaking at the tribunal, Bryce explained: “I will always be late with my disability. I’m not intentionally late. I will try to be on time [but] no matter how I plan it fails. I’m going to be late for my own funeral.

“I’m late for everything. I don’t foresee danger... I’m like a rabbit in the headlights.”

Bryce explained his dyslexia meant he often reads the numbers wrong on his digital alarm clock, and resultantly believes he has more time.

He said he struggled to wake up early for shifts and that the long hours made him feel “overwhelmed.”

The panel, led by employment judge Rachel Broughton, ruled in favour of his claim of discrimination arising from a disability.

They also supported his complaint that the firm failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate this disability.

The panel ruled that Bryce’s timekeeping struggles were “the main reason for the decision not to offer him more shifts”.

Judge Rachel Broughton concluded that Bryce’s disabilities had “a number of long term effects on his normal day to day activities” including inhibiting his ability to read, write and understand information.

“[Bryce] was impaired in his ability to keep to a timetable and plan for potential factors such as traffic and weather conditions and thus is often not able to arrive on time for events and engagements,” said Judge Broughton.

“He found it difficult to wake and get ready for work on time particularly for early shifts. He would suffer significant anxiety if he was late. He compared his cognitive functioning in the mornings to setting up a computer and he described needing more time to start processing properly than those without his disabilities.”

Neurodiversity tribunals

Earlier this year, a judge dismissed claims that a worker - who was sacked after turning up late on seven of their first nine days on the job – should've had their ADHD condition taken into consideration by the firm.

As reported by the Law Gazette, M Nabeel Ud-Din took former employer CJCH Solicitors to a tribunal after being sacked in 2019 for poor time-keeping and his attitude towards colleagues.

Ud-Din told the tribunal that, in being sacked, he had been the victim of disability discrimination, on account of having ADHD (Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder). However, the employment judge rejected Ud-Din's claims, ruling in favour of the firm after the firm which presented “clear and unequivocal” evidence that contradicted Ud-Din's claims he had made bosses aware of his neurodiversity.

The tribunal also rejected the notion that the ADHD should have been “self-evident”.

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The tribunal had heard that Ud-Din turned up late for work on seven of his first eight official working days, following an induction day, as well as taking a lunch break that lasted more than two hours.

With reports of poor behaviour towards colleagues compounding the firm's frustration over his time-keeping, Ud-Din was subsequently sacked after just nine days on the job, but it was allegedly only after his dismissal that he referenced having ADHD, when he lodged an appeal.

As wrote Law Gazette: “The judge stressed that the firm could not be expected to know about any medical issue as there was nothing about it in Ud-Din’s CV or mentioned at interview, and there was nothing in his poor time-keeping to indicate a potential underlying disability. All claims were dismissed.”

‘It’s about time employers educate themselves’

Kate Palmer, HR Advice & Consultancy Director at Peninsula, said that with one in seven of the UK population now falling within the neurodivergent category, it’s estimated that 30-40% of neurodivergent employees are unemployed. That’s three times the rate of people with physical disabilities and eight times the rate of people without disabilities.

“It’s about time that employers educate themselves and ensure their workplaces are suitable to welcome neurodivergent individuals to their teams,” Palmer explained.

The risk of not doing so? There was a 40% rise in employment tribunals relating to autism and a 14% rise in dyslexia claims in 2021 compared with previous years, indicating that discrimination on these grounds is being brought to the fore.

Palmer said: “There is an abundance of benefits to hiring neurodivergent people, some of which include high levels of attention to detail, good memory, drive and passion, and creativity – which are usually much sought-after characteristics when recruiting.

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“Studies have found that neurodivergent teams are 30% more productive than neurotypical ones and made fewer errors.”

However, there’s a wealth of reasons that may prevent a neurodivergent individual from thriving in the workplace – or from even applying for a role at all, as Palmer explains.

“To better open your arms to neurodivergent applicants, employers should consider amending their recruitment processes. Job adverts should steer clear of terms that might be too broad and open to interpretation like ‘good communicator’ and ‘team player’. Instead, focus solely on the technical skills required.

“It’s not uncommon for those who are neurodivergent to struggle with social situations, so instead of traditional interviews, a trial work period may be preferred, or allow a supporter to attend the interview.”

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