Who saw the recent BBC2 documentary series "Employable Me"?  If you didn’t, in my view its worth watching. 

This three-part documentary followed six people with various impairments such as autism, Asperger's syndrome and Tourette's syndrome, conditions which have made it extremely difficult for them to find employment, in their search to find work. 

It made for compelling television and only the most cold-hearted person could fail to have been rooting for them to succeed.  

The premise of the series was relatively straightforward: Don't judge a book by its cover.  Just because someone has an impairment that might, at first glance, suggest that they are unsuitable for most types of employment, the truth can often be very different. 

With help from experts such as occupational psychologist, Nancy Doyle and Professor Simon Baron-Cohen, director of the Autism Research Centre at Cambridge University, the individuals on the programme identified potential job roles that might be suitable for their skill sets. 

We saw:

It was genuinely inspiring viewing.  In Brett's case, his success in securing paid employment followed a two week trial in which he was given various different tasks to complete which gave him the opportunity to show what he could do.  Peacocks Medical Group should be applauded for the ability of its IT team to see that a condition like autism should not in any way be a barrier to successful employment, and for creating the right environment for Brett to showcase his skills.

This got me wondering about how many employers would be prepared to carry out a recruitment process like this, rather than in the traditional way we’re all familiar with?  Have you ever made a recruitment decision based solely on a work-based trial? Have you ever recruited a person with an impairment such as autism or Tourette’s syndrome?

If not, then one thing that the programme showed me was that businesses may be missing out on recruiting people who could be a perfect fit for a particular role unless they are willing to conduct a "non-standard" recruitment process.

Why is this an issue?

According to the most recent Labour Force Survey statistics available on this issue[1], the percentage of working-age disabled persons in employment is 46.3%; substantially lower than rates of employment for working-age non-disabled people (76.4%). 

However those figures appear to hide an even greater disparity with certain conditions.  For instance, research by the National Autistic Society[2] suggests that only 15% of adults in the UK with autism are in full-time employment.  I find this staggering at a time when there are approximately 700,000 people with autism in the UK.

There is a legal context to consider too.  The Equality Act 2010 requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to their recruitment processes so as to eliminate (as far as they reasonably can) the disadvantages that a disabled applicant might face in the recruitment process. 

Discrimination claims by unsuccessful disabled job applicants are not uncommon.  Unless an employer is able to establish that they have considered and made all reasonable adjustments that they could to their recruitment process to help the disabled candidate overcome the disadvantages that their impairment causes them, in many cases the employer will be unsuccessful.  This could be the case even where the successful (non-disabled) candidate was objectively the best person for the role. 

The basic requirements set out in the Equality Act are reinforced by Code of Practice issued by the Equality and Human Rights Commission and which gives examples of the kind of actions that employers should consider taking to make adjustments to their recruitment processes. 

Whilst this doesn’t specifically refer to changing an interview process into an extended on the job trial – which would probably be more than most employers would consider – in some cases that could in my view be considered to be a reasonable adjustment. 

In my work as an employment lawyer I am frequently asked to advise employers about their obligations towards disabled candidates and employees, both during the recruitment stage and throughout employment. 

In my experience having a positive mind set and an attitude of "let's see what we can do here" rather than the opposite, pays dividends.  In many cases the adjustments which may be required will be basic, easily implemented and cost very little.  

Having seen how 'on the job' trials can work, I will certainly be suggesting this to clients in the future as an adjustment to consider.

If anyone reading this has any particular experiences, positive or negative, of making similar adjustments to their recruitment processes or  in recruiting a person with an impairment such as autism or Tourette’s syndrome, and wishes to share these details with me (on a confidential basis), please do get in touch – [email protected]. www.3volution.co.uk

[1] Department of Work and Pensions and Office for Disability Issues Statistics, 16 January 2014

[2] Redman, S et al (2009) Don’t Write Me Off, Make the System Fair For People with Autism