Whilst bullying is a distressing occurrence for all employees it can have particularly severe consequences for autistic people and often sadly leads to unemployment for the individual affected. Autistic people are more likely to be bullied and more strongly affected both psychologically and physiologically. They are also less likely to be believed and receive less empathy which leads to further bullying going unchecked. A person or a group of people can be bullying in the way they speak to you, or they can be physically abusive. However, it can also be more subtle, for example leaving you out of a team activity or not sharing information relevant to your job to make you look bad.
Bullying can also happen over the phone or via emails, it’s not restricted to only face-to face interactions.
The Equalities Act 2010 was put in place to help protect employees against harassment for reasons such as being disabled or having an impairment. Some examples of possible harassment are:
- Verbal abuse
- Asking very personal questions – for example about a disability
- Making rude gestures or facial expressions
- Making offensive comments
Citizens Advice states that:
“Harassment is where someone creates an atmosphere that makes you feel uncomfortable – this could be because you feel offended, intimidated or humiliated.
If you’re being bullied, your situation might also be harassment under the Equality Act 2010. If it is, you can take action under that law.”
Regardless of the law everyone has the right to feel safe, productive, and confident at work. It’s important to be aware of your own needs and advocate for yourself and get help if you need it.
Having a workplace mentor can be really helpful, someone who you can ask questions to and who can explain any unofficial rules (for example when you make yourself a hot drink offer one to the rest of the team). They can also be a first point of contact if you feel you have suffered harassment or bullying at work. Your employer is ultimately responsible for preventing bullying behaviour and should have policies in place to prevent this and to help and support you.
What you can do if you think you’re being bullied at work
Some useful links are:
National Bullying Helpline – https://www.nationalbullyinghelpline.co.uk/employees.html
Autism Space – Employment Support – National resources for autistic people