August 18, 2016

Autism spectrum disorders are a group of developmental disorders. People with autism spectrum disorders vary widely in their individual traits and abilities; however, people with these disorders do share some commonalities. They tend to have symptoms or traits, such as communication difficulties, that hinder their ability to function socially or at work. In this session, a leading expert on autism spectrum disorders will be joined by experienced labour lawyers to explain the medical aspects of these disorders and to discuss legally-compliant strategies for accommodating employees with autism in the workplace.

  • Understanding: What are autism spectrum disorders? What is “the spectrum”? How prevalent are autism spectrum disorders in the general population and in the workforce? How are they diagnosed? Who can make the diagnosis? What’s the difference between Asperger’s Syndrome (AS) and autism? Does the removal of AS from the newest version of the DSM mean that people previously diagnosed with AS no longer have a medical diagnosis or that people who would have been diagnosed under the old criteria will no longer have a diagnosis at all under the new criteria? How common is it for a person with an autism spectrum disorder to have a concurrent mental health issue, such as depression or anxiety?
  • Countering stereotypes: Why is there controversy surrounding labelling autism spectrum disorders as medical “disabilities” or diseases and the approach to the disorders taken by the Autism Speaks organization? Should workplace parties consider autism spectrum disorders to be disabilities as legally defined by human rights legislation despite this controversy? What stereotypes about people with autism spectrum disorders should workplace parties be aware of? Do employers have a legal duty to educate their workforces about autism spectrum disorders and combat and dispel associated stereotypes? What steps can an employer take to ensure a non-discriminatory environment for employees with autism spectrum disorders? What is the union’s role in combating stereotypes?
  • Functional limitations and accommodations: Why is it preferable for workplace parties to think of autism spectrum disorders in terms of functional limitations rather than concentrating on the diagnosis or medical definition? What are the most common functional limitations someone with an autism spectrum disorder is likely to experience? What are some helpful accommodations for people with autism spectrum disorders? Are there accommodations unions should provide when representing employees with autism spectrum disorders or when such employees are accessing other union services or dealing with internal union procedures? Will employers find it easier to establish “undue hardship” in cases involving employees with autism spectrum disorders because these disorders are life-long or because such employees will have difficulty with tasks involved in many jobs (like group-work)? Are good “social skills,” or “being a good team player,” bona fide occupational requirements (BFORs)?
  • Making inquiries: Should an employer ask a job applicant if he needs accommodations in the application process or if he is likely to require accommodations in the workplace? If so, how and when should the employer enquire? Are there special considerations employer and union representatives need to keep in mind when communicating with someone with an autism spectrum disorder? If an employee does not self-identify, when will an employer or union have a duty to inquire whether the employee is having difficulties meeting workplace expectations because of an autism spectrum disorder? Why might an employee not self-identify or be reluctant to do so? If an employee asks for accommodation because he or she has an autism spectrum disorder, what medical information is the employer legally entitled to request?