Your American Autistic Guide to Rights at Work

Rachel Worsley  |  26/08/2023

In the United States, autistic employees are protected by various laws that ensure they have the right to reasonable accommodations in the workplace. These laws are primarily enforced by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC). Here are some key legal rights and considerations for autistic employees:

  1. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA): The ADA prohibits discrimination against individuals with disabilities in all areas of public life, including employment. Autism is recognized as a disability under the ADA. Employers with 15 or more employees are generally required to provide reasonable accommodations to qualified employees with disabilities, including autistic individuals, to help them perform their job duties.
  2. Definition of Disability: To be protected under the ADA, an autistic individual must meet the definition of disability, which means they have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities. Autism typically qualifies as a covered disability under the ADA.
  3. Reasonable Accommodations: Employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to enable autistic employees to perform their job duties effectively. These accommodations could include changes to work hours, modified workspaces, job coaching, communication aids, or flexible leave policies, among others. The specific accommodations needed will depend on the individual's needs and the nature of the job.
  4. Interactive Process: The ADA encourages an interactive process between the employer and the employee with a disability to determine appropriate accommodations. Both parties should engage in open and constructive communication to identify and implement effective accommodations.
  5. Undue Hardship: While employers are generally obligated to provide reasonable accommodations, they are not required to make accommodations that would impose an undue hardship on their business operations. An undue hardship is a significant difficulty or expense. However, this is a high standard for employers to meet.
  6. Disclosure: Employees are not required to disclose their autism diagnosis unless they are requesting accommodations. Once an employee requests accommodations, they may need to provide medical documentation to support their request.
  7. Retaliation Prohibited: Employers are prohibited from retaliating against employees for requesting accommodations or asserting their rights under the ADA. This includes protection against adverse actions such as termination, demotion, or harassment.
  8. State Laws: Some states have their own disability discrimination laws that may provide additional protections beyond the ADA. Be sure to check the specific laws in your state.
  9. Enforcement: If an autistic employee believes their rights have been violated, they can file a complaint with the EEOC or a similar state agency. They may also have the right to pursue legal action against their employer.

It's important for both employers and employees to be aware of these legal rights and obligations to create an inclusive and accommodating workplace for individuals with autism and other disabilities. Employers should proactively engage with employees to address their specific needs and work together to find reasonable accommodations that allow them to perform their job effectively.

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