Kulvinder, a principal scientist in a research laboratory, who had been with the organisation for 26 years, had always given her all to her work and generally worked 50-60 hours per week. She expected others to be similarly committed and had little time for those that weren’t. Although she was perceived as a difficult person to work with, her outstanding abilities in her field of expertise had made her an accepted and respected member of the research team.
In 2011, a sub-contractor was appointed to work with Kulvinder on a project that required parts of the work to be outsourced. Towards the end of the collaboration, the subcontractor accused Kulvinder of bullying. She was suspended from work with immediate effect, while the allegations were investigated. She was informed that she was facing a disciplinary hearing but resigned before the actual hearing took place.
On finding out about the allegations, she was very upset and dumbfounded, as she had no idea why the allegations had been made and thought that she had had a good relationship with the person involved. In addition to this, not being able to go to work caused her a lot of anxiety, as she was extremely worried that the project she had been working on would not be finished by the deadline. Her health deteriorated dramatically, and she became depressed.
When she had resigned before the hearing, she had thought that she would have the opportunity of working with another company in the USA, which was working on a similar project. This fell through. She asked to be allowed back to work at the research laboratory, but this was refused on account of her resignation.
She became so desperate to work that she applied for a cleaning job at the local hospital. When she was turned down for this, she committed suicide.
In the following inquest, the coroner called for more support and reasonable adjustments for disciplinary procedures for those showing signs of autism. The blame for the suicide was put squarely on the employer and they were told to put measures in place to prevent something like this from happening again.
Overview training was implemented for all staff, together with in-depth training for managers and staff who knew they had someone with autism on their team. Drop in sessions were introduced for those who were concerned, and a facility was provided where staff, who suspected they were autistic, could be screened. Ten people were subsequently diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
This case highlights the urgent need for autism awareness training within all organisations. In Kulvinder’s case, ensuing action was taken to right the wrongs, but this situation could have been avoided altogether had preventative measures been in place in the first place.
Opened my eyes to ‘Autism’ and how it affects individuals. Made me look at myself, what I do, how I respond. Made me take everyday situations and analyse some of the things that I see/hear.
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