HR says I have a moral obligation to tell everyone I’m autistic

A reader writes:

I’m a senior manager in a medium-sized organization. We have, in the past, had some issues with the way that neurodivergent employees have been treated — not on my team, but due to the way that they have been managed by other members of the senior management team. We’ve twice had to pay a financial settlement as a result. I think that due to the field we’re in, we probably have more neurodivergent employees than average.

We’ve been trying to make attempts to improve on these issues, including recently appointing a new HR director, Jane. Jane and I don’t work very closely (I’m on the technical side of things) but we did have an intro meeting at which I told her that I’m autistic. I have some minor accommodations in place so I thought that, being in charge of HR, she should know. I thought this would be in confidence as not many people in the organization know this (only the CEO and my direct reports).

A few weeks ago, I found out from one of my team that, in a meeting, Jane had told them that I was autistic. They already knew but were surprised at Jane telling them.

I spoke to Jane about this, who said that if we are to improve the culture of the organization and become a friendlier workplace for neurodivergent people, then it’s important that I be open as the most senior autistic person on staff. She said that I should tell people.

I don’t know how to feel about this. I’m not sure I do feel comfortable with her telling people. The way she spoke also made me feel quite guilty, like I have been doing something wrong — and I hate the idea that my not being brave enough to be open about being autistic might have contributed to the difficulties that some of our staff have faced.

I don’t feel able to discuss this with anyone else internally. Our CEO, who I would normally trust for advice, has just gone on three months paternity leave.

Do I have a moral responsibility to tell everyone I’m autistic? I just can’t help feeling uncomfortable about it, but I don’t know if that’s something I need to work on getting over.

You do not have a responsibility, moral or otherwise, to tell people you’re autistic unless you want to.

Jane is horribly off-base and wildly out-of-line.

Your private medical information is your private medical information. You get to decide who you share it with, not Jane.

It’s incredibly troubling that your head of HR — who was brought in partly to make your company a more welcoming place — so profoundly misunderstands this. Is she also going to tell employees with cancer that they have a moral obligation to share their personal health information with everyone at work even if they don’t want to? How about trans or non-binary employees?

If the company wants to improve its culture and become a friendlier place for neurodivergent people, it’s the company’s responsibility to figure out how to do that, not the responsibility of the people who have faced bias and discrimination.

This isn’t about you not being sufficiently brave, or about you letting down other neurodivergent people. This is about your company (a) letting down neurodivergent people, (b) wrongly telling you to personally fix it, even if it means ignoring your own instincts, comfort, and safety, (c) violating your privacy, and (d) telling you it’s your fault if you feel uncomfortable with that.

If you want to, you could go back to Jane and say this: “I looked into this further and realized that sharing my diagnosis with people without my consent violates the confidentiality requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, and I want to make it very clear that you do not have my permission to share it with anyone else. Given our conversation, I also want to make sure we are following the law and protecting other employees’ private medical information as well.”

I hope you’ll also consider raising it with the CEO as soon as he’s back from leave if you think he’ll be supportive. At a minimum you should point out that the new head of HR is flagrantly breaking one of the key laws she’s supposed to know and enforce.

{ 439 comments… read them below }

  1. Professional_Lurker*

    Breaking out of my usual lurking to say that whenever anyone claims that a member of a vulnerable group, be it gender, race, religion, or neurodivergent, have a “moral obligation” to out and expose themselves they are *10,000% full of it*.

    1. Slow Gin Lizz*

      Yes! Members of vulnerable groups of people do NOT have to teach the rest of society how to treat them. They have enough to deal with just by being members of vulnerable groups of people.

      1. Project Maniac-ger*

        Agreed. This feels like when a company “prioritizes diversity” by creating a DEI committee and volunt-telling a black woman to be the chair….

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          Similar situation: my friend’s kid came out as NB last year and this year the kid’s 8th grade social studies teacher decided that they would do some units on identity. So the first unit was on (IIRC) Native American culture and their identities (or some other marginalized culture; don’t quote me on that, but also IIRC it was a culture that had no representation in the class members) and the second unit, which they focused on a couple of weeks ago, was on sexual/gender identity. Friend’s kid, being the only non-cis kid on the classroom, absolutely felt attacked and pressured to defend themself and their gender identity in a classroom with a few classmates who already had outed themselves as homophobic and had made kid’s 7th grade pretty miserable. Kid then had an absolutely awful time concentrating in all their classes for the rest of the day and I think even the rest of the week. I’m incensed. It sounds like the teacher is young and had no idea that this was a bad idea, but still I’m furious at the guy. Of course my friend is an excellent parent and definitely had words with him, but the damage has already been done.

    2. Beth*

      Absolutely. OP, Jane is both doing all the bad things Alison says, AND is trying to take the easy way out. She was brought in to create a more equal and welcoming environment for neurodivergent employees. That SHOULD mean that she’s working hard at examining company policies to look for possible improvements, offering education on the topic to management, expanding and normalizing accommodation processes, and making other structural changes towards accomplishing that goal.

      Instead, she’s saying “Tada, we have an autistic senior manager, clearly we don’t discriminate against neurodivergent people!” She’s forcibly outing you so she can pretend she’s accomplished the job she was hired for, instead of doing any actual work to make a change. If anyone is violating a moral obligation here, it’s her.

      1. Ann Onymous*

        And having one member of an underrepresented group in senior leadership doesn’t mean that group isn’t still underrepresented and it doesn’t mean that person didn’t have to overcome extra obstacles to get where they are.

        1. Ellie*

          Especially if they’re not out about it. They may have only gotten to where they are precisely because no-one knew, unfair as that is. It’s a sad indication of the continuing problems with their culture, which I assume is why they are trying to paper over it by outing OP. It’s disgusting.

    3. Change name for today*

      And then to turn around and abdicate their moral (and legal) obligation to employees is crazy. So crazy!

      1. MigraineMonth*

        Looks like the company’s days of paying out disability discrimination settlements is finally coming to a middle.

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          “On the plus side, we hired a new HR director to focus on diversity! On the minus, it turns out she’s from Bizzaro World Ltd. Also we hired her on opposite day.”

        2. 1LFTW*

          Shiny comment!

          And yeah, I had the same thought. This HR person they hired to prevent another lawsuit is gonna get them into another lawsuit before much longer.

    4. Pita Chips*

      Oh hell yes. When I saw, “moral obligation” I got rather angry. How dare HR tell someone that?

      It’s up to the company to make it a welcoming place where someone feels safe sharing their conditions.

      LW isn’t obliged to share with anyone if they choose not to.

      This from someone with ADHD. I don’t need accomodations, and I’ve kept it to myself because it isn’t their business

    5. H.Regalis*

      This makes me think of an old Savage Love. The original LW was a young gay person living in a small town and dealing with a ton of homophobia. Someone wrote in a response that was along the lines of, “As a gay person, doesn’t the LW have a duty to stay in this town and teach all the homophobic people not to hate them?” and Dan Savage shut that down HARD.

      I hate that line of thinking so much. “You already have the short end of the stick? Let me pile a bunch more obligations on you! It’s your job to run a finishing school for hateful people!” No, it emphatically is not.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I very much remember that Savage Love too and also was thinking of it while reading this letter. I think about it a lot, actually. And am grateful even as an ally and not a gay or trans person, that I live in a blue state, but I worry a lot about everyone who lives in red states.

      2. Anon4Reasons*

        Oh yes. How many times have I, a trans neurodivergent person, been told I must endure both microaggressions and actual human rights (by provincial and federal law) violations and not ever raise my hecking voice or change my tone to be unpleasant because I must be UwU model QueerTransADHDAutist so people can learn to understand me.

        I do try very hard to keep things civil, but I let my masking slip and flat effect for good some days. “I’m not talking about XYZ rally as their talking points are a strict violation of our DEI policy and I don’t know what would compel you to even bring that up to me in a conversation.”

    6. Warrior Princess Xena*

      Agreed 10,000%.

      I absolutely appreciate it when someone from a member of a vulnerable group passes me information – a good journal article, a book, or even a personal request like “it helps me when you do X/Y is super distracting for me”. But it’s my responsibility as the person at the top of the power differential to not be a jerk in the first place, and if someone DOES trust me enough to share information like that then it’s my responsibility to remind MYSELF to remember and use that information and not use them as a crutch.

    7. Not my coffee*

      No, everyone doesn’t have a “moral obligation” to release and expose themselves, but it has turned into a very popular request.

      What comes to mind is celebrity culture, where people are told “you should say something because some mythical person may be experiencing the same things you are, so you should say something in the form of details, opinions and advice. You don’t know who you could be helping.” (This is paraphrasing not an exact quote.)

      I am not surprised it has trickled down to the work environment.

      1. ecnaseener*

        You also see it a lot framed as like, “authors should out themselves to prove they’re ‘allowed’ to write about this population.” And it’s wrong there too!

        1. Bo Peep*

          Actors playing LGBT characters have had to out themselves to justify their employment. It’s gross.

          1. allathian*

            Yes. As a corollary, I find it equally gross to insist that LGBT+ characters should always be played by actors who share the character’s identity. They’re ACTORS, so they can FAKE it. Fer chrissake. Sure, if there’s a matching actor available, by all means hire them. But I don’t understand the hate Eddie Redmayne gets for playing a trans woman in The Danish Girl, for example.

            1. Worldwalker*

              The corollary to that is that straight characters could only be played by straight actors. Is that really what people want? I sure don’t.

            2. Merrie*

              Yes, actors are actors, but men are almost always cast to play male parts and women to play female parts. Eddie Redmayne is a man. There are a lot of people who think of/treat trans women as “men in dresses” rather than viewing them as women. The casting of a cis man to play a trans woman perpetuates this stereotype, like saying the character is “really a man”. They probably would not have gotten nearly as much flak if a cis woman had been cast. Conversely, if the entire production had featured multiple characters played by an actor who wasn’t the same gender as the character, it wouldn’t have been an issue in the same way.

    8. Rainbow*

      As someone who was diagnosed with autism last month…
      It is NOT on us, agreed. Also this kind of thinking caused me so much harm and stress decades back when I was an out queer kid in a very unfriendly community! Your HR is way out of line, especially with telling people herself.

    9. Magenta Sky*

      Jane should be drive out of HR work with a sharp, pointy stick. Or perhaps several sharp, pointy sticks.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        This comment makes me think of the rabbit in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, who has “big, sharp, pointy teeth.” I think that rabbit should be called upon to help drive Jane out of HR work, along with the sharp pointy sticks you suggest.

    10. BekaAnn*

      This is what a functioning DEI committee is for surely. If you want the place to be welcoming to the neurospicy folk out there, this is where it should be coming from. They might /ask/ OP if they are willing to share their story, but this moralistic forcing of someone is just cruel!

    11. Stealth ADHD*

      Over the past couple of months I’ve had to complete a handful of online job applications from well-established companies that ask specific questions about existing disabilities and accommodations. They provide a long list of visible/non-visible conditions. The list always includes ADHD, which I have (diagnosed late in life as an adult). I haven’t needed to apply for a new job in over a decade, so this is new for me. I’ve always answered No as I feel it will count against me and it really is none of anyone’s business unless it comes up in the course of my work.

      I recently got hired on to one of these companies and so far it’s been going well (I think). My position is generally low-level and the duties have been straightforward. However, there is one component of the work where I added my own ‘accommodation’ of labeling boxes with a Sharpie. I do this to avoid overhandling / re-opening / re-checking the same boxes to identify product that needs to be stocked in my niche area. I also put the boxes in logistical groups that make categorical sense. Other people don’t find it necessary to do this.

      After several days I found, over the course of a shift, it really stresses me out to go through piled, mixed & disorganized unlabeled boxes over and over (and over) again. I already worry about my time management as it is.

      2-3 weeks in here and doing the labeling is working well/keeping me sane, but I’m now wondering if I will eventually be told to not waste time doing this. Literally no one visibly does this but me. Several people in other departments handle boxes and I roll through their areas as well as the general backstock. My Sharpied boxes stand out when temporarily staged on the floor or are in backstock.

      Now I’m wondering if I could be written up (eyeroll) for doing this, generally be ordered not to do it, or be called on the carpet by not disclosing my condition on the application should someone petty or neurotypical bring this up. I don’t care to disclose, but if I have to, to get someone off my back, I will.

      1. Slow Gin Lizz*

        Cheers from a fellow newly diagnosed ADHDer! (I’m 45 and was diagnosed a week after my birthday last month.) IME, labeling things is useful for everyone so I doubt your company would object to your doing this unless they were a truly terrible company. And one thing I’ve learned from the myriad of videos I’ve watched and articles I’ve read (I’ve binged a large percentage of How To ADHD videos recently, shout-out to them!) is that a LOT of the accommodations we need are extremely useful for the neurotypicals out there too. (See: files I’ve renamed so that they actually describe the thing in them instead of just generic “[date] EFT donations”, for instance. Or having a hook right next to your door for your keys so you always remember to put them there and always know where they are.)

        I hear you on not checking the ADHD box; why would *anyone* disclose that to a new or prospective employer? Keep asking for accommodations as you find them useful, but I don’t know if you ever need to disclose your ADHD to your employer. (I happened to blurt it out a few days after my diagnosis when my boss was asking me why I keep making goofy mistakes; not sure I would have said anything yet if she hadn’t asked when it was all so new in my brain.)

        1. goddessoftransitory*

          If anything, a good company would see value in the labeling and organization and want to study it!

      2. snuck*

        I assume you aren’t spending hours labelling boxes, jut scrawling on them the contents and moving along. No one is going to have a serious issue with that, they might comment on it (and you might be a bit more aware of that comment than others might be), but it’s almost certainly going to be seen as a ‘very well organised’ person thing. It could even play in your favour “Stealth is so neat and tidy and has everything organised”.

        It is NORMAL for all adults to have small quirks and differences, adults learn to accommodate and regulate their quirks in many ways, even without ADHD. Some might label boxes, others might go to the toilet every time they’ve had an annoying call and need to stretch their legs. Some might not stack their boxes because they like to spend 3 minutes every half hour just chilling and digging through them.

        I’m saying “don’t stress about it”

        1. magpie*

          Yeah I’ve got ADHD and need to physically write stuff down in order to remember it, so I just carry a little flippy notebook around with me everywhere. I think it actually makes me seem especially competent and “extra neurotypical:-” in a weird way. I must be a SUPER detailed and on-top-of-it person, because I’m always writing the littlest stuff down! Nobody has to know that my notebook is actually an accessibility tool and I would fall apart at the seams without it.

      3. Reluctant Mezzo*

        Frankly, the labeling is a splendid idea (I marked all the packets of yarn that came with my latch hook rug with the Mystic Symbols on the pattern, and it’s helped me find them much more quickly). Your labeling may become immensely popular among everyone. Or company policy!

      4. Irish Teacher*

        Even if somebody does question your labelling the boxes, I don’t think you would need to mention ADHD to explain it. Something like “I find it helps keep me organised” or “I find it saves time in the long run as it means I don’t have to recheck the boxes later” should be sufficient explanation.

        As others have said, a lot of people have quirks or different ways of working, even those who are neurotypical. I don’t know whether I am autistic or have sensory processing disorder (well, pretty sure I have the latter) or what, but for little things like the above, I’ve never had any problem just saying stuff like “I prefer to leave last after supervising in the hall at lunchtime because I don’t like to be caught in crowds” (have never even had to explain this as I go around and ensure all the students are actually going to class and nobody is lingering on in the hall). Even my young teenage students have accepted “I need to have something in my hands to concentrate properly.”

      5. paxfelis*

        Honestly, it sounds like an “I’m new” accommodation and I wouldn’t question it. Very reasonable, very logical, very helpful. It may very easily catch on as something other people do. I know it’s an idea I’d copy with great speed and no shame whatsoever.

        Speaking as one neurotypical-so-far person

    12. goddessoftransitory*

      And then to decide FOR that person to just go ahead and reveal private information! How moral.

    13. Ellie*

      Yeah, your company has had to pay out on two settlements already, and looks like its lining itself up for a third. I’d go nuclear on this one.

  2. Alton Brown's Evil Twin*

    “…who said that if we are to improve the culture of the organization and become a friendlier workplace for neurodivergent people, then it’s important that I be open as the most senior autistic person on staff.”

    This reminds me of the letter where a manager was trying to out someone’s sexual orientation for the same reasons.

    1. WeirdChemist*

      Yep, I was reminded of that letter too! As a queer person who’s chosen to stay closeted at work (I live in a red state, and a lot of senior leadership in my company is a part of a religion that is very queer unfriendly), I occasionally feel guilty and like I’m “letting my people down” for not being out at work.

      LW, I hope you are reassured by Alison’a advice here (and hopefully most of the commenters) that this HR rep acted super inappropriately! You have no obligation to share your private medical (or any!!) information with anyone at work unless you’re requesting accommodations, and even then it’s expected that said info stays on a need-to-know basis.

      1. virago*

        I occasionally feel guilty and like I’m “letting my people down” for not being out at work.

        I realize that I am privileged to be a queer person in a blue state who can be and is safely out at work, and I would never presume to tell another queer person to come out at the workplace.

        Your sexual orientation is none of anyone else’s business. Your safety, emotional and physical, comes first. Period.

        1. I Have RBF*


          Yes, I am quietly “out” as a non-binary person (AFAB married to another AFAB). But some places I haven’t been. I live in a blue city in a blue state, but there are still homophobes and anti-trans people here.

          Safety first, last, and always.

      2. Mari*

        Look… I’m a Canadian ex-pat living in a VERY blue part of a blue state, and I’m not queer, so I’ve got zero idea what it’s like to be in your skin. Having said that, I am neuro-spicey, as we say in our school, and I am a teacher of teens in a school that is generally seen as a ‘haven’ for trans and queer kids who are, in many cases, either neuro-spicey or have mental health challenges (or, you know, some combo of all three + other stuff).

        I’m going to share with you the same thing my Uncle W, who was also one of my unofficial teaching mentors (and also older, queer, and BIPOC), told me more than 20 years ago when I was dealing with advising a queer student:

        Your ONLY obligation to your ‘people’ is to live YOUR life in a way that keeps you safe, secure and ideally happy. If being out and loud makes you feel safe, secure and happy, go for it. If being on the downlow and only telling a few people makes you feel safe, secure and happy, then that’s what you do. And if you feel safest being out to absolutely no-one, then that’s YOUR call – no one else’s. You help NO ONE if you are upset, frustrated, pressured or angry – all you do is re-enforce the haters worst suppositions.

        I have used that as my guiding principle for who I tell about my slightly funky brain for the past 25+ years… I hope it, coming from a man who lost almost everything coming out (being gay and Asian in the 1950s was not a happy thing in Canada) but who did so because HE wanted to, not because of any other reason, helps. He was vocal and passionate until the day he dies that only YOU get to decide what you show the world – and anyone who tells you otherwise is an idiot and can be granted the same attention as a fart (just ignore it).

      3. Kat*

        Wow. This is completely inappropriate. In the UK this would be a data protection/GDPR as well as an Equality Act issue. Under GDPR you may not share personal info and the financial and legal penalties for sharing ´sensitive’ personal info like disability are even stronger.

        As a fellow disabled person, no this is not your job and is part of a wider pattern of ableist behaviour expecting disabled folks to reveal sensitive personal info and do unpaid extra (and often traumatic) work that others are not expected to do.

        There are plenty of other ways of making the organising more welcoming, including paying external experts to do mandatory courses for the staff, offering accommodations, providing accessibility software to everyone so they don’t have to ask. And plenty of other things…

        1. MigraineMonth*

          In the US, the disclosure is a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Which is probably the same act that resulted in the last two settlements, so I’m not impressed by this organization’s ability to learn from past mistakes.

      4. Worldwalker*

        Your first responsibility is to yourself. Your safety, your health, your existence. “Your people” aren’t the one you face in the mirror every morning.

        I’ve had emergency training for several different fields (including EMT) and they always emphasize that your first responsibility is not to become a victim yourself; if you do, there are now more victims who need rescue/treatment and fewer responders to help.

        Put on your own oxygen mask first.

    2. Sloanicota*

      Unfortunately, this thinking towards LGTBQ visibility is not that uncommon and there’s a history behind it.

        1. Hlao-roo*

          I was reminded of Harvey Milk, who during a speech said, “We will not win our rights by staying quietly in our closets … We are coming out to fight the lies, the myths, the distortions. We are coming out to tell the truths about gays, for I am tired of the conspiracy of silence, so I’m going to talk about it. And I want you to talk about it. You must come out. Come out to your parents, your relatives.”

          1. Rainbow*

            Yep seeing this from Milk’s speech really scared me when I was younger. He’s a hero; did we all have to be as brave as him?

            1. mariemac*

              Harvey Milk outed Oliver Sipple, the man who prevented the assassination attempt of Gerald Ford under this same logic – it would improve the national perception of gay men if the public knew that the person who saved the president’s life was gay. It deeply damaged Sipple’s relationship with his family and likely lead to his substance abuse. People have no responsibility to be a visible representation of their identities in public or open settings like a workplace, and other people do not get to make that decision for them.

          2. Critical Rolls*

            I don’t think a call for collective action from within a community is very comparable to a corporation saying “out yourself, individual, so we may tokenize you and declare ourselves diverse and unproblematic.”

            1. Willow Pillow*

              I am autistic and I disagree. I’ve felt that pressure both from allistic people in the workplace and from fellow autists, and the latter hurts more in a way. It’s like the female boss who pushes back against a younger woman taking her full parental leave.

              1. Critical Rolls*

                I’m trying to tell you how to feel about pressure from other autists; I’m not part of those conversations. But I will tell you your analogy is very off base.

                Milk was calling for the group, as a whole, to make themselves more visible in order to stand up for their rights, applying the power of numbers. The call was not “individual queers, become the token gay in your office and take on the work others should be doing.” This was something that he, part of the community, expected to have a substantial net benefit for all members, despite the risk, and he walked the walk. This was no different than MLK encouraging sit-ins. There have been times and circumstances when progress required groups to take serious risks, but no individual could carry that movement forward, and everyone had to assess their own situation. (I don’t know that the current situation with neurodiverse people in the West is on quite the same scale, but that just adds complexity.)

                A woman pushing back against her staff’s parental leave is not trying to benefit anyone except maybe herself/the company, and is not connected to any collective action. That’s one person who should know better trying to screw someone over. It’s not remotely comparable. Just like the LW’s situation is a bad actor at a crummy company whose only interest is in offloading the DEI work onto a minority, also not comparable.

                1. Willow Pillow*

                  Jane has interpreted that call for action as LW needing to be “out” and violated their right to privacy as a result. The woman pushing back against taking full parental leave may be trying to protect her staff against blowback (I have seen this directly as well). They’re all parts of the same system, and that system is stacked against people like me. They can be comparable without being identical. With due respect, unless you’re also a member of this group, you’re speaking over me about my lived experience.

                  (Also, you’re misusing “neurodiverse” – it refers to groups with multiple neurotypes such as autistic, ADHD, or neurotypical. “Neurodivergent” refers to individuals who are not neurotypical.)

            2. MigraineMonth*

              No, but both can be damaging and problematic. It’s akin to the “respectability” pressure coming from inside a community: yeah, it probably helps the community as a whole, but it can be very damaging at an individual level.

          3. FrogFriend*

            And I am reminded of me, who said “No one gets to decide for others when the time is right to be out.”

          4. The Gollux, Not a Mere Device*

            I think of that approach as meaning that being out can be politically/socially useful because it will show/remind people that they know some LGBTQ people, so it’s worth doing if/when/as you can. Not that it’s going to be safe and easy, or that you have to come out first to set a good example.

            Also, it’s 2023. I’m not going to be the only queer person someone knows, and the LW isn’t the only autistic person they know. If they think all their friends, relatives, and coworkers are neurotypical, that says something about how safe it might be to identify as neurodivergent in that context.

    3. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      The cognitive dissonance from the HR person here is appalling. Coercing a person who is part of a group that is marginalized, underserved, and discrimimated against to be some sort of figurehead is inclusive…how??

      (It’s not).

      1. Willow Pillow*

        It would indicate the opposite of what was intended for me – that HR, and by extension this workplace, cannot be trusted with this information.

        1. Dancing Otter*


          Isn’t this sort of breach of confidentiality of medical information a res judicata? Perhaps a few words with the corporate counsel would be helpful in reining in the rogue HR person?

    4. Nina*

      The most neurodivergence-friendly place I’ve ever worked had every new starter meet with the CEO, and part of his spiel went, ‘we hire the best people. That’s why you’re here. That’s why everyone is here. So if someone only communicates on Teams, or doesn’t wear shoes, or smells funny, or you don’t like their haircut, just remember, they’re the best at what they do and that’s why they’re here’. And that general vibe was adhered to at all levels. ‘Weird’ was not a valid reason to complain about someone.

  3. rollyex*

    “Our CEO…has just gone on three months paternity leave.”

    This is a small sign (dude taking time off for parenting – assuming this is standard) that the organization as a whole is not as backwards as the head of HR.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      Companies can be strong in one area and horribly weak in another, so I’m not convinced about that. Parental leave and confidentiality around medical information only have a sliver of overlap – it’s medical, but by definition people know why you’re out.

      Regardless, OP is not the company and needs to set their own boundaries.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Exactly. Ableism is a whole ‘nother thing … thinking about intersectionality and all that.

        1. Susie*

          Agreed–My job is to make schools more inclusive for students for disabilities (and I have a disability myself).
          I think Ableism is the most socially acceptable -ism.
          The infantilization that so frequently comes along with Ableism makes people feel more comfortable making decisions for people who are neurodiverse, disabled, etc.

          OP-HR may think she’s making a positive statement, but she’s removing your agency. This is a frequent tactic of ableist people that creates disabling situations in which people can otherwise effectively self-advocate.

      2. rollyex*

        Yes. That’s right I wrote “small sign” and not “evidence.” Don’t want to convince you – it’s just one datum.

        1. Czhorat*

          Yeah, but the person getting this benefit is the CEO.

          I expect the person at the very top of the hierarchy to have almost whatever benefits they want; I’m too cynical to see “the CEO gets 3 months paternity leave” as indicitive of any bigger picture.

          1. Sloanicota*

            Ideally, the fact that CEO valued this benefit and modeled using it could mean they’ll extend it to other employees and it will become part of the culture … but I’ve certainly seen it go the other way too. People at the top aren’t always aware of their own privilege, and they can sometimes view their benefits extremely narrowly (I remember I think it was Sheryl Sandberg talking about needing a special parking spot when she was pregnant and how she implemented that for the whole org; but there was some backlash about the crappy family policies she *didn’t* personally need).

      3. Brisvegan*

        So true! I work at a university in a school that is a flagship of inclusion and support for LGBTQIA+ people.

        At the same time, my management is dreadful with disability issues, including my requests for very simple accommodations. Those with disabilities are seen as complainers trying to cause problems or shirk work. I think it comes from a mindset that disabilities are something our students use as an excuse to get extensions. Management don’t seem to see that both staff and students with disabilities just need reasonable adjustments to be able to shine.

    2. Analytical Tree Hugger*

      I agree, it’s a sliver of hope that the organization as a whole isn’t in-line with the head of HR’s bizarre statement.

      More generally, it’s unfortunate that society has shown so many of us to be deeply wary and distrusting.

    3. I'm just here for the cats!*

      I still think that the OP should contact the CEO or whoever is next in line if its not the HR person. This is a huge mistep and it also means that the employees who witnessed Jane talk about the OP being autistic will not want to get accommodations, etc because they will feel like Jane will tell others their private information.

      1. boof*

        if CEO is on parental leave I do not think the OP should contact them for anything short of a dire emergency only the CEO could handle. Potentially going to the next in line, or just feeling confident in firmly telling HR to not disclose other people’s accomodations/diagnosis without their enthusiastic consent – and anything else IS damaging – is better.

    4. Generic Name*

      I mean…..maybe? It’s also the CEO getting a huge benefit. I’m curious if entry level/front line staff are afforded this as well. And, as others point out, a company can be great in one aspect and problematic in others. I just left a company that was very flexible and family friendly in terms of working hours and remote work on one hand, but ran on what amounted to a system of favoritism and had rampant bullying and sexual harassment.

    5. MassMatt*

      Meh, I’m not so sure I’d read that into it. The LW doesn’t seem to have anyone else they can trust to go to with this issue in the three months the CEO will be absent. Either the CEO didn’t make sufficient arrangements to have someone cover these sorts of problems or the person assigned this duty is not considered trustworthy by the LW. Te me this could just as easily signify that the whole organization has got a lot of problems.

    6. Autistic Letter Writer*

      It is generally a good company to work for! Pay and benefits are good, and I enjoy the work. Within my immediate team we all get along and work well together. But there are definitely some cultural issues more widely, not least around neurodivergence.

  4. bamcheeks*

    I think it is legit for an organisation to ask senior people who are members of minoritised groups if they want to be visible role models for that group, and to spell out the benefits that doing so could bring to the organisation. Generally speaking, some of the “benefits to the organisation” are going to accrue to you too as a senior person in that organisation, so it can be a win-win.

    But the decision of whether or not you want to be “out” stays with you– you don’t lose that right to weigh up the pros and cons and your personal privacy because you’ve hit a certain salary or grade. Jane is wildly in the wrong to take this decision away from you.

    1. Anonym*

      I wonder if she let it slip and then came up with this crap about OP’s obligation to cover herself. I’m not usually this cynical, but it seems possible at least. (Not the most helpful or actionable response here, sorry.)

      1. bamcheeks*

        I was kind of assuming she was reasoning backwards– if someone *is* a visible senior role model for a minoritised group, it’s not unusual for them to give some kind of statement like, “As a lesbian and a member of SLT, I felt it’s important for me to be visible in order to…” If you’re an “I understand appearances but have no concept of the thinking behind them” person it’s not completely illogical for the takeaway to be “senior leaders have a moral obligation to…” rather than “everyone, including senior leaders, has ownership of their own identity and information”.

      2. But what to call me?*

        That doesn’t even sound all that cynical. She might have been operating under the assumption that OP would be fine with it because she thinks she would be fine with it in OP’s position. Then, when OP contradicted her assumption, instead of admitting that she made a mistake she decided to dig in and justify her actions by claiming that not only did she not do anything wrong, but it was OP who is wrong for not doing what she assumed OP would do.

        1. kalli*

          Or she thought everyone knew and was just being clueless and it was something like ‘oh you do this differently because LW is autistic, how wonderful!’ which isn’t actually better than wandering around announcing it for the sake of ~representation.

          The only thing HR needs to know is that LW has accommodations in place and what they are, which they should be able to find from the request on file. Even they do not need to know why.

    2. Lilac*

      I get where you’re coming from here, but I honestly wouldn’t. You really, really don’t want to put employees in a position where they feel pressured to disclose their private medical information—and even phrasing as benign-sounding as “it would really help us if you did this” can read as pushy when it’s coming from the people who sign your paychecks.

      The way to encourage employees to be open about these things is to make them feel like they can do so without repercussions. It’s the employer’s job to prove that through their actions, not the responsibility of marginalized employees to serve as role models—especially when the company already has a less-than-ideal track record in that regard.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        And as someone rightfully pointed out in another comment, autistic people are especially vulnerable to emotional manipulation. Listen to the language OP is using, clearly that’s what’s happening here. Jane is being more overtly manipulative than what bamcheeks is suggesting of course, but it’s important with this kind of thing to think about both what you mean, and what the person receiving the message is likely to hear. There’s too many factors that lean towards “will hear it as a demand masked as a request” that I wouldn’t even broach it.

        1. But what to call me?*

          Not just emotional manipulation, but also just being unsure about the implications of what is being asked and if there’s any way to push back without being seen as (or actually being) a bad person.

          I’m autistic too, and while I don’t consider myself particularly easy to emotionally manipulate, I have a hell of a time figuring out suggested vs. required vs. just a suggestion but we’ll judge you if you don’t comply vs. this is important but if it doesn’t work for you there’s lots of room to talk it out and make adjustments so it works better. Bring morality into it, and sometimes you end up with situations where even asking clarifying questions can come off as being a bad person unless you know how to ask them exactly correctly and are confident enough in your ability to do so to try it.

          1. Lilac*

            I’m not autistic, although I do have other mental health stuff that sometimes makes me prone to second-guessing other people’s intentions. When there’s a lot at stake (like my job security, for example), I tend to err on the side of doing what the other person wants even if it isn’t what *I* want. That can get tricky when something like private medical information is on the line.

            I’ve also had bosses in the past who would say things like, “It would be great if you could do this” when they actually meant, “I expect you to do this.” Not every employee is like that, of course, but it’s happened to me enough times that I’m rarely 100% sure whether or not something is truly optional.

          2. Beth*

            Suggested vs required vs ‘suggested but actually mandatory’ vs ‘stated as a requirement but actually there’s flexibility’ is tricky for everyone, I think! We all like to think we’re good communicators, but that kind of nuance is hard to make out–a lot of the time people are guessing. (I’ve personally found that most ‘requirements’ have more flex room than I’m being told, and most ‘suggestions’ have more weight behind them than “you could do this if you want, no pressure”. Most things in this world are more gray than black or white.)

            1. Lilac*

              And not all managers/HR reps are great about communicating when something is mandatory vs. optional. It’s come up in letters on here before: managers will soften the language too much when giving feedback, and inadvertently frame something as a request/favor when it’s actually a requirement to succeed in the role. (I’ve had managers do this to me before, and I’m sure I’ve done it to people as well—it’s very common.) So it’s not always unreasonable for employees to err on the side of assuming things are mandatory.

        2. Autistic Letter Writer*

          Hi, letter writer here. I think I definitely am quite susceptible to emotional manipulation. I tend to take quite a while to process how I feel about things, and in the moment just believe what the other person is telling me. I think that’s partly why I let this get to me, even though I knew it felt wrong – reading Alison’s reply and all of the comments is massively reassuring!

          1. MigraineMonth*

            You had a feeling it was wrong, and you knew Alison would be able to tell for sure, so you’ve got good instincts!

      2. MigraineMonth*

        If you want people to take a role at your company, you should make sure it’s a role that benefits both the employee and the company. Too often, DEI work hurts the person doing it.

        “The company really benefits from all the time Letitia spends on our DEI initiatives, too bad we have to fire her for not meeting quota” is an all-too-familiar double-bind for minorities.

        1. MassMatt*

          There was a huge suit many years ago involving a very large company who had call centers, not sure if they were doing sales or customer service, it’s not really relevant. They would get calls from Spanish speaking customers, and had no mechanism for routing them to bilingual employees (problem #1).

          When someone got a Spanish language call, they would go find Juan or Maria Spanish speaker (who might not even work in the call center!) to handle them.

          The Spanish speakers doing this, far from being rewarded for their skills, were reprimanded for not making their own quotas because they helped these people instead. A valuable skill was treated as a detriment. Those who then refused to take the calls for fear of being docked on their own performance were also punished for “not being team players”.

          If memory serves, the employees won big, and the company (I am only 90% sure I remember the name so I won’t guess) suffered a huge hit to their reputation.

          When I worked in a call center you had to pass an exam to qualify as a bilingual rep, and those passing got a substantial increase in base pay.

          1. Lilac*

            It’s possible I’m remembering wrong, but wasn’t there a letter on here awhile back about a similar issue? Something about a bilingual employee being asked to do translation work or deal with non-English-speaking clients, without being compensated for it.

    3. Beth*

      Don’t ask people to come out about their minority status. People who want to will do it on their own–hiding is work, you don’t do it if you don’t want to. People who don’t shouldn’t be pressured in any way, even very gently.

      Being the Visible Minority generally doesn’t get you benefits or kudos. It’s a great way to be the first name that comes to mind for every single diversity initiative, but that runs into the same issue as women volunteering to run office parties or take notes in meetings–the extra work isn’t the work that’s seen as ‘promotable’. It’s not going to get you career advancement over your peer who spent the same number of hours on a client-facing project or a product-building initiative.

      1. Lilac*

        Especially since OP stated that their company has historically not been great when it comes to their treatment of neurodivergent employees. (And they said that their company is *working on* fixing the issues, not that they *did* fix the issues.) If I were in OP’s shoes, I’d be very worried about the potential repercussions of sharing my diagnosis—more than I’d be optimistic about potential benefits.

        1. But what to call me?*

          Yeah, I default to preferring to share my diagnosis, for a variety of reasons, but in a place with a recent history of lawsuit-level discrimination I will definitely not be doing that. There’s some risk in even the best environment, but a place like that is practically screaming ‘all the bad things you worry might happen probably will’.

          1. Lilac*

            Yeah, if I were in a workplace that had a decent track record with marginalized employees, I might be willing to be a “role model” of sorts. But in that case, I likely would have already “outed” myself of my own accord, because I wouldn’t have had any reason not to.

        2. Beth*

          Not only are they *working on* fixing the issues rather than past-tense *did fix*, but it sounds like Jane was supposed to be a big part of the solution! I sure as heck wouldn’t be trusting that those issues are getting resolved, in OP’s shoes.

          1. General von Klinkerhoffen*

            Relatedly, we withdrew our ND child from a school that continually failed to meet his (honestly straightforward and $0) needs. Shortly afterwards they appointed as SENCo (senior position, in charge of identifying and accommodating special needs) precisely the teacher who had been most resistant.

            Parents of similar children who stayed report that she has made no progress, and therefore the school is not improving for ND children, and have lost almost 20% of the cohort.

            1. MigraineMonth*

              The horribly cynical part of me wonders if the school considers ND children leaving a failure or a success.

            2. holly*

              That’s so scary because to be appointed as a SENCo requires significant extra training that has to be paid for.

    4. DramaQ*

      No absolutely not. There is a power dynamic there that has implications that if you do not take senior level people’s suggestion it will come back to bite you. It is not on those of us who are neurodivergent to be the token face of whatever it is we are dealing with so the company can pat itself on the back and claim they are diverse. It is up to the company to do the research and do the homework. There are plenty of organizations they can work with who will be the “face” of their new diversity program. Nobody should feel pressured to use their private information for company gain.

      1. bamcheeks*

        Where I’ve seen this done it’s been someone at an Advisor level in HR making an open invitation to people at c-suite / board level, not managers asking direct reports in one-to-one settings. As long as it’s clearly stated that this is optional I don’t think it’s unreasonable to think that people in very senior roles are capable of balancing their personal needs against the organisation‘s need and making a decision either way.

        That said, my experience has been with people who are out being asked to be LGBTQ+ role models, and I take the point about it being harder for autistic people to gauge what counts as a request and what’s compulsory.

        1. Lilac*

          I think it’s also different when the person in question is already “out.” In OP’s case, most of their colleagues don’t know they’re neurodivergent, so it’s not just that they’re being asked to serve as a role model—they’re also being asked to share information that they may not be ready to share at work yet. That’s different from asking an employee who’s openly gay, IMO. (Although I’d still be careful in that case—marginalized people are frequently asked to take on extra unpaid labor in situations like this.)

          There’s also the fact that discussions of LGBTQIA+ identities don’t typically involve disclosing medical information, unless you’re discussing medical transition. Issues involving mental health typically do involve that factor, which can complicate things.

    5. Margaret Cavendish*

      I was coming to say the same. Even if we take Jane’s comments at face value, and assume that OP does have the obligation to disclose – it’s still OP’s obligation, not Jane’s. So even giving Jane the widest possible benefit of the doubt, she’s still wrong!

      Also, I’m having a hard time imagining the context of this disclosure. What were they talking about, that OP’s autism was relevant and useful information? Unless they were literally making a list of Autistic People We Know And Love – I can’t picture a scenario where this would be a logical part of the discussion.

      1. Lilac*

        I’m guessing the context was one of two scenarios:

        1) One of OP’s accommodations came up in conversation—for example, someone remarked that OP often wears headphones, and Jane said something like, “Oh, OP is autistic and those are noise-cancelling headphones that they wear as an accommodation.” (Obviously I don’t know what OP’s actual accommodations are and I’m not trying to speculate here—that was just the first example that came to mind.)

        2) They were discussing the company’s history with neurodivergent employees, and Jane said something like, “OP has autism so maybe we should ask for their input.”

        Of course neither of those scenarios is acceptable, but I could see how this would happen in a company that’s already less than stellar at dealing with these issues.

        1. Ellis Bell*

          Interesting, because my assumption was the OP was being used for bragging rights, like “OP is autistic and does well here, so obviously this company and its HR are fabulous”. Even though OP’s success predates the new HR person, I completely thought that’s why HR was so keen on outing them. I wish I could say I had never seen a minority group person’s achievements annexed and bragged about as the achievements of the company, but I can’t.

    6. I'm just here for the cats!*

      That might be right
      for things like race, where you obviously have someone in a minority in your senior leadership. But its not the same for disability

  5. Emby*

    OP–you absolutely DO NOT have an obligation, moral or otherwise, to share information about yourself you don’t want to. HR has an obligation to know and follow the law, and she clearly is failing at that.

      1. pope suburban*

        Somehow, this was the exact phrase that sprang to my mind too. Well, after I rebooted from the Blue Screen Of Death. What in the world was this person thinking?!

        1. MigraineMonth*

          Also, how do these people get hired for HR? I realize there are many great HR people that we never hear about, but I feel like “basic awareness of employment laws” shouldn’t be that hard to screen for *or* train for. Yet time and again on this blog the HR person is the one violating the 101-level laws.

          1. Name*

            Speaking from personal experience – school districts are the worst. Senior leadership in HR is either campus admin who wanted to promote but know nothing about HR or campus admin who they needed to move, couldn’t not renew their contract (no clue why), and move them to HR because “it can’t be that hard and we have legal to help”. What ends up happening is their legal bills go through the roof and you get a head of HR who wanted to call a woman’s doctor to confirm that her husband was in the room when she gave birth. He could not understand how that violated HIPAA.

    1. NotBatman*

      HIPAA is pretty dang fundamental. Assuming OP is in the U.S., Jane needs some serious re-training.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        This is pendantic but for the purposes of making sure readers have the correct information – this is not HIPAA, and HR departments are not legally bound by HIPAA. This is an ADA violation.

      2. Beth*

        I think you might be thinking about the ADA? HIPAA doesn’t apply here–that’s about medical data privacy in the sphere of medical professionals and the healthcare industry, it doesn’t apply to HR.

  6. Harper the Other One*

    Oh, OP, please take this up the chain. This was wildly inappropriate and will lead many MANY people with disabilities, not just neurodivergent people, to view HR with extreme suspicion. You do not share someone’s diagnosis without their permission and if Jane doesn’t understand that, she’s in the wrong line of work.

    1. Bilateralrope*

      Question is, who should the letter writer go to when the CEO is not an option for months and the problem is the HR director ?

      1. FrivYeti*

        Presumably someone is acting in interim CEO duties, likely one of the vice-presidents or department heads. They’re not going to make huge decisions, but a company can’t just ignore all top-level decision-making for three months.

        1. Slow Gin Lizz*

          That’s possible but OP did say that they didn’t want to discuss this with anyone else in the company. OTOH, maybe now that OP knows that what Jane is doing is illegal, maybe OP could talk to whoever is making the major decisions for the company while the CEO is out but not actually say what their specific medical issues are, just that Jane is pressuring OP to reveal the issues to a lot of people that OP doesn’t want to know and also that Jane has been disclosing it to people without OP’s permission.

          1. Mill Miker*

            I would be totally prepared, even if OP is incredibly discreet, for Jane to start of the meeting with something like “Is this because I told people OP is autistic?”

            If Jane doesn’t see any reason to respect OPs privacy, you have to assume anyone she talks to about OP will probably find out.

          1. Ally McBeal*

            A brand-new HR lead is not going to be put in an interim CEO position if the company also has, say, a CFO, General Counsel, or other C-level positions that are closer in nature to the CEO role.

        2. Pajamas on Bananas*

          LW could file an ADA complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. This is NOT a lawsuit.

      2. Slow Gin Lizz*

        I know that family leave is legally supposed to be untouchable, but if the CEO is the one on leave and the new HR director is telling an employee something that could cause the company a whole mess of legal trouble, wouldn’t it be a good idea to tell the CEO this? OP is smart enough to know this is a bad idea and write to AAM for advice, but what if the HR director is telling stuff like this to lower level employees who think they are required to disclose personal information they’d rather keep secret but think they have to tell because HR says so? This sounds very dangerous to me, but IANAL – could any lawyers weigh in on this, whether a company is allowed to disrupt family leave for something like this?

        1. anonymous 5*

          IANAL either but I’m pretty sure that part of the setup for planned family leave includes defining coverage plans (at least as much as possible) and, in the case of the leave-taker having subordinates, an alternative chain of command. This doesn’t necessarily need to be handed directly to the CEO, but it definitely should be reported to the person handling the CEO-level urgent stuff.

        2. saskia*

          It’s generally fine to occasionally contact someone on both FMLA and parental (pat/maternity) leave. The issues start when the contact is more than very occasional and/or when there’s pressure from the company to respond for fear of negative impact on your job when you return. Of course, everyone should err on the side of not contacting the person on leave unless extremely necessary.

          That said, any higher-ups acting in the CEO’s stead should be contacted ASAP, and then you’d contact the CEO as a last resort. (And if I was CEO, even if I was on leave, I’d want to know about this because I’d want to avoid the company having to pay a THIRD settlement.) This is nuts, OP.

          1. MigraineMonth*

            You’d think a company that had been twice-bitten by discrimination suits would be a bit more careful about who they put in charge of HR. What was the hiring process that missed the fact that the director of HR doesn’t understand basic ADA laws??

        3. kalli*

          Some parental leave has ‘keeping in touch’ time baked in, so the parent can come in for an afternoon or to deal with a crisis without breaking their leave; it would be dependent on the jurisdiction and the contract whether that was the case here.

          In general someone on parental leave has the right to be kept informed about changes to the workplace that may affect them and to be consulted if their position is directly affected (boss leaving, restructuring and similar), and should only be contacted about work itself if nobody else can manage it.

          This case is a bit different again because LW isn’t necessarily asking in a work capacity – they can actually approach the CEO for advice as a friend/acquaintance and not as a formal ‘I am reporting this to my boss’ conversation requesting action. The CEO can give advice in that capacity also – ‘talk to my EA, they’re discreet enough to let the right people know’ or ‘wtf no you don’t have to disclose’, and the CEO is able to call someone to check in and say ‘I heard this happened, manage it and let me know the outcome’ or delegate someone to investigate without actually going in and doing it. At the CEO level that’s kind of what one expects when they’re on leave – if something comes up that arrangements haven’t been made for, they get called, make those arrangements, and hang up.

          Who might be delegated to handle it, whether there’s a board who can step in, and what they may be able to do with only a rubber stamp or waiting for a keeping in touch day will depend on the org itself – but disclosing confidential medical information may be serious enough to justify firing, so the CEO will have to be looped in at some point because personnel changes at the ‘this person reports to my office’ level are indeed in the ‘person on leave needs to know’ category of ok to contact while out of office.

          1. Slow Gin Lizz*

            Thanks, kalli, this is the advice I was looking for. I especially think the last paragraph is good to know.

      3. Roland*

        CEO’s temporary delegate if it’s one person. Someone in the C-suite, COO if they have one. VP or director of anything people related if they have them, or VP or director of anything else if they don’t.

    2. The_T*

      Seconding this, OP. I really don’t think you should wait for the CEO to come back to discuss it – I think this is a strong enough indicator that something is off here that it needs to be flagged ASAP.

      If we set aside the idea of you sharing your neurotype as part of that conversation, you can simply report to whoever is acting is as the CEO that you have some concerns about Jane. You can say that you learned that Jane shared some private medical information with your direct reports and, when you spoke to her about it, she pressured you to share your private medical information more broadly with staff. Hopefully whoever is acting CEO will have the sense to not ask follow up questions, but either way you can just say “it’s private” – you do not have to disclose to have that conversation.

      I think this is serious enough that it needs to be flagged early. Who knows if she is using the same line with other staff who have less organizational power and so feel that pressure even more strongly. This is something you can do for other NDs without compromising what you decided is best for you and hopefully whoever is acting CEO is able to shut it down before it does more damage.

      I think the question about if you’d like to disclose is separate. I agree with the overwhelming sentiment here that you don’t have to. I am a visibly and always out queer, but quiet/not out at work autistic and, while I can see why some comparisons can be made (such as, some queer people can pass as straight, some high-masking autistics can pass as allistic) – in my experience these two identities are not treated at all the same, even in a relatively liberal leaning organization in a state with lots of protections for LGBTQ+ people. I agree with someone who posted above – ableism is very much a socially acceptable -ism in our society.

      You’ve seen first hand that your workplace is not safe for ND people. You have absolutely no obligation to put yourself in harm’s way. The people who haven’t been hurt by your org don’t need a role model – they need structural accomodations and protections. They need policies and procedures that allow them to thrive at work. You disclosing your status does not get them that.

      If you would like to, and only if you would like to, you can look for other ways to support structural changes without disclosing until and unless you decide that is something that you would like to do.

      1. Autistic Letter Writer*

        Thank you, this is a really helpful comment for a way of approaching it. Out operations director is acting up as interim CEO at the moment. I was really unsure what to think but the strength of feeling in the comments makes me feel much confident that she’ll take it seriously. She is someone who I think would respect it if I told her it was private (although I’m sure Jane would say in any subsequent talk so might tell her anyway).

        1. owen*

          I think you are right that Jane would disclose the specifics in subsequent talks with your operations director – but that this is actually more reason for you to stick with ‘it’s private medical information’ during your talk with the operations director yourself.

          It will highlight for the operations director that this is medical information that YOU consider private… and then, when(if, technically, I suppose) Jane then shares the nature of it with her…. that demonstrates to the operations director directly that JANE is not considering it private medical information. From the head of HR, that should be fairly damning.

      2. MigraineMonth*

        Excellent point. The best thing you can do to help other ND people in the company isn’t disclosing, it’s getting this HR director fired ASAP.

    3. Willow Pillow*

      I have been in very similar circumstances (fellow autistic with cut-and-dried discrimination) – I would suggest that LW see a lawyer first. It might not be worth the fight – it is often very lengthy and labourious without proportional compensation. Yes, we need people to fight that fight in order to make progress… but LW is no more obligated to endure that than they were to serve as the org’s DEI poster child.

  7. king of the pond*

    This is absolutely infuriating. Worst of all is that autistic/neurodivergent folks are often the most vulnerable to this sort of, frankly, emotional manipulation. Jane was brought in as a solution but she’s the problem! But it almost seems this company is trying to bugger things up, with a track record of two settlements already.

    1. higheredadmin*

      +1000% re: the vulnerability to emotional manipulation. This is exactly what makes this extra infuriating for me.

    2. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      Yeah, my husband would absolutely feel terrible guilt for being a “bad person” as a result of this conversation. And then would want to avoid HR forever because he wouldn’t want to have to deal with her/these feelings, so he would never be able to ask for what he needed ever again.

      It’s terrifying that this woman reached director level without knowing the basics of her job.

  8. Czhorat*

    In a vacuum, I understand Jane’s belief that being open about ones autism (or other neuroatypicallity) is a way to expand awareness of people on the autism spectrum as perfectly normal co-workers who should be treated the same as everyone else.

    The problem is that it isn’t her place to make that choice and it isn’t your responsibility to be the autism information kiosk and support society; indeed, by treating that as your obligation Jane is, in a way, reducing you to your autism as the entirety of your identity.

    Giving the extreme benefit of the doubt, I can see how her heart is in the right place, but she’s profoundly wrong. You deserve better.

    1. king of the pond*

      “it isn’t your responsibility to be the autism information kiosk and support society; indeed, by treating that as your obligation Jane is, in a way, reducing you to your autism as the entirety of your identity.”
      Not just that, but making a ND/disabled person advocate for themselves and others is draining someone who is already low on resources.

      1. Eldritch Office Worker*

        AND, no diagnosis is a monolith. I certainly wouldn’t want to be labeled as the ADHD expert in my organization – I can advocate, but what works for/applies to me isn’t going to work for/apply to everyone and I wouldn’t want to imply otherwise in any situation.

        1. Freya*

          I *am* the ADHD expert at my work, but:
          a) I volunteered that info to my coworkers,
          b) we’re comparatively small so there’s no obligations other than answering the occasional question posed by one or more coworkers who know someone in their personal life and wants to do some research for themselves rather than impose on that person (or on me!) to do Neurospicy 101 for them, and knows that there’s problematic resources out there and would like to be pointed in good directions, and
          c) that info is under *my* control – not a single coworker would disclose that info to anyone without checking with me first, and never ever to a client (some of whom I’m out to as neurospicy, some of whom I’m not)

      2. kalli*

        We just covered this the other day in one of the open threads but in general where the thing being sought is individual, you ask the person what they want and respect it. Where the thing is informational or solely based in your actions and presentation, it’s on you to research first and ask questions later. Someone getting ‘what is autism you don’t look autistic’ a thousand times when you can look it up online is placing the burden on someone to educate you about how to basic decency. Don’t do that. “Are you keeping this private or is it okay for me to tell people if it comes up?” Please ask first, because that’s someone’s individual preference in that specific environment.

    2. RagingADHD*

      Further, Jane may hold that opinion personally, that influential individuals being open will help reduce stigma. And if OP were discussing it with her and asking her advice on a personal basis, as friends outside of work, expressing that opinion would be a different matter.

      But her personal opinion doesn’t belong in her role as HR here.

    3. But what to call me?*

      What someone like Jane doesn’t usually consider is that there are costs and risks to disclosing. She isn’t the one who would be taking on those costs and risks, so it’s easy for her to decide that of course OP should disclose because look what good it could do and *surely* nothing too bad could come of it (because how bad could a type of discrimination she’s never experienced possibly be?)

      Even in the best company, it’s a lot of work to be the perfectly normal autistic coworker teaching everyone about autism. So many ordinary decisions and interactions take on a layer of ‘what does this say about autistic people, about me, about whether I’m just pretending because I want attention/accommodations, about whether I’m competent, about what stereotypes I might be reinforcing…’

      It’s a whole lot easier to decide there’s a moral obligation to take that on when you’re not the one who has to actually do it.

      1. Mill Miker*

        In this case, Jane is one of the risks.

        “How can we make ND people feel safe here? Oh, I know! Let’s immediately prove that they absolutely aren’t.”

    4. Hobbling Up A Hill*

      I wonder whether Jane even considered that if the LW is not white or not male, then Jane’s comment about LW being Autistic is potentially opening up LW to other people cheerfully informing them that they don’t ‘seem autistic’ or ‘look autistic’. Which they might well think is a compliment but it gets draining. And that’s possibly the politest of the various ways people can exclude you.

      I am afab, got my diagnosis and I am not kidding within 24 hours I’d had my first ‘but you don’t seem autistic’. Obviously I cannot speak for autistics of color but I assume there are issues involved in the intersectionality of race and autism.

      1. Autistic Letter Writer*

        I’m female, and I get this all the time. Although normally when people get to know me a bit they change their minds! And yes, it is very draining.

  9. Pastor Petty Labelle*

    Ooooh noooooo. Yeah no. Jane is so wildly out of line she can’t even find the line. Then to guilt you into revealing your personal information to cover up her revealing your information? Oh no. No. No.

    HR is all about confidentiality. People need to trust that their personal information — social security numbers, health information, whatever will not just be blurted out to random people. If people can’t trust HR to keep confidential information confidential then your workplace has become less safe not more.

    I am going to say this flat out — OP you have nothing to feel guilty about. Not everyone has to fight every battle especially if means revealing very personal information about yourself. Jane was wrong. Period.

    1. Income Tex*

      HR is about protecting the company. Confidentiality only plays a role if it helps the company. LW made the mistake in thinking that Jane was there to protect them. It didn’t take long to find out that wasn’t true.

      1. saskia*

        No, confidentiality was required in this case by the ADA, so HR broke the law and created yet another opportunity for this company to get sued. Jane didn’t do a great job of protecting the company, IMO.

        1. Czhorat*

          I think the cynical “HR is there for the company, not the employees” can be taken too far, sometimes.

          In an ideal situation, HR is there to help the company follow employment laws and take care of their employees; it also benefits the company long-term for employees to be happy and feel well-treated.

          The company might, in the short term, be better off if HR “forgets” to send benefit enrollment forms, saving them the cost of paying for benefits. No good HR person would make it harder for employees to enroll because that’s part of their job, part of the compensation, and part of maintaining an engaged workplace.

          HR can also serve as a bulwark against managers who don’t understand or care abour workers’ rights, which is why it’s frustating when the ADA violation is coming from inside the house.

      2. Garblesnark*

        HR is about protecting the company FROM employees suing the company.

        This HR director is inviting OP to sue the company. She is failing at what her job is.

      3. MigraineMonth*

        If HR was doing it’s job, it would be *protecting the company* from a third (or more) ADA-violation lawsuit. Instead, they’re the ones committing more violations and putting the company in legal jeopardy. (The ADA has specific confidentiality rules that Jane is breaking, so yes, confidentiality plays a role.)

      4. Aquamarine*

        Respecting the OP’s confidentiality absolutely helps the company! Presumably they don’t want to defend a lawsuit or pay another settlement.

  10. Lady Blerd*

    My jaw fell when I read Jane’s response! Not sure what I can add beyond what Allison said here beyond that she does not have a standing to share OP’s autism without their consent. Let met reattach me jaw.

    1. Ralph the Wonder Llama*

      Yes, I’d have the conversation that Alison recommended, and then I’d follow up in writing via email, and copying anyone higher than Jane in the hierarchy.

  11. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

    WTF, Jane?
    You have done absolutely nothing wrong, OP. You have zero obligation to disclose this to anyone. And Jane is so far off base regarding sharing your private medical information that she’s running around in the parking lot. Of another game. Of another sport. In another time zone.

    Alison’s scripts are great. You may also want to ask Jane who else she has told. First, to have a sense of how big her breach of confidentiality is. And second, so you can decide if you want to talk to any of the people Jane told and ask them not to share.

    1. Rapunzel Rider*

      “so far off base … that she’s running around in the parking lot. Of another game. Of another sport. In another time zone.”

      Just here to say that is fabulous and I am stealing it.

  12. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

    Wow. Holy shit, Jane.

    LW, I’m sorry you’re in this position and I hope you take Alison’s advice to heart regarding the company’s responsibility to make it a welcoming place.

    You have no moral obligation to lead the way here. In fact, you sharing without Jane also doing her part to make the company welcoming and safe, will likely result in a bunch of people knowing a bunch of private and potentially sensitive things about others, without it being safe for all that information to be out there.

    Jane is a misguided ass. I hope you are able to explain to her why she’s being one and also why her efforts are not helpful (plus breaking the law by sharing your private medical info WTF).

    Sorry you’re having to deal with this. You have all my solidarity.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Yes, all of this. If the head of HR told me confidential medical information about another employee, I would never tell HR anything. I wouldn’t want to ask for accommodations or share any medical information. If I was being harassed by a colleague, there’s no way I’d trust Jane to handle it appropriately.

  13. A. Nonymous*

    No need to share the diagnosis, but I do think it’d be wise to be open about any quirks in your work/communication styles that may be affected by autism without sharing *why* you have those quirks (just presented as a Personal Preference rather than Autism related).

    1. Princess Deviant*

      This is a great idea! I have done that with some interviews I’ve had: ‘I’ve got information processing issues, it would be helpful to have the questions in advance’ kind of thing.
      Or saying I’ve got sensory processing issues to make meetings a bit easier, for example.

    2. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      That’s a true statement in general, but is a nuance that I think is beside the main issue of this letter.

      Jane doesn’t want LW to share in order to ensure that LW’s and others’ communications quirks and preferences can be accommodated. Jane instead wants LW to share to contribute to her vague idea of inclusivity and openness, but misses the point completely in terms of what happens next. So everyone knows everyone’s private medical history and accommodations. So what? If the company is not a safe, welcoming place, or people don’t know what to do with that information, it doesn’t help to have shared and can actually make things worse.

      1. A. Nonymous*

        Agreed– I was sharing my POV as a neurodivergent manager: share any relevant behaviors that may come with the diagnosis without attributing them to the diagnosis itself. It’s been very helpful for me at work to accommodate my own needs while maintaining my privacy.

      2. Jaydee*

        Exactly. Jane wants LW to share so she can use the fact that LW is a senior manager as evidence that their company can’t possibly discriminate against neurodivergent people. Because if they did how could you explain that LW is successful at the company, huh?

        Hopefully the company’s legal counsel is, as we speak, pounding their head on their desk and sadly singing “this is the way we pay our loans, pay our loans, pay our loans, this is the way we pay our loans on a Monday morning” while making a PowerPoint that has two slides. One slide just says “NO!” in giant, red letters with a picture of a poop emoji on a fancy rug and another picture of the lawyer scowling and holding a rolled up newspaper. The other slide has a gif of the lady from the esurance commercial that says “That’s not how it works. That’s not how any of this works.”

    3. many bells down*

      I’ve done this for one person that I occasionally work with. They have a TBI and I’m (probably) on the autism spectrum and at one point our processes for completing something were in direct conflict. Fortunately we’re both good at long explanatory emails so a few of those laying out our individual processes cleared it up.

    4. Nightengale*

      Which is sounds like they have already done for relevant parties (the CEO and their direct reports)

    5. Autistic Letter Writer*

      This is partly why my direct reports do know I’m autistic – so that they understand that I have a few ‘quirks’. I don’t mind people knowing, but I prefer to know and trust them first. I also prefer it when it’s people I work with everyday, because then they will get to know me and not just see me as a stereotype. Sharing it with everyone feels very different!

    1. Jessica*

      I believe Jane may be attending a different game in another town. It’s concerning that she’s wearing this company’s team uniform.

  14. Witch*

    What an absolute moron.

    I’ve had friends who were accidentally outed because they changed their gender on social media, but that was by a (purportedly well-meaning but not at all thinking) coworker. Not the HR person specifically hired because the company keeps getting sued for precisely that sort of shit.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      How did she get this job? I’m not (and never have been) in HR and even I know this is terrible. I guess the organization was so limited in their understanding of these issues that they didn’t know what skills they should be looking for and how to assess them…

      1. The Username Lost to Time*

        Every couple of dozen letters make me wonder what sewers are being searched for these absolutely terrible HR people.

        1. Not Today*

          I reported a very senior colleague for sexual harassment. Specifically, deliberately getting me drunk at a work event and very persistently trying to take me home. (Fortunately, I was not THAT drunk.)

          In the fact-finding meeting to discuss my complaint, the HR rep said, exasperatedly, “Well, maybe he just FANCIES YOU, [Name!]”

          So yes. They do walk amongst us… and as far as I know, 5 years later she remains employed by the company.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            ARGH! Who cares if he fancies you?! His motives are irrelevant. He. Tried. To. Sexually. Assault. You.

            I hope you found someone else in the company who took this as seriously as it ought to be.

    2. many bells down*

      Oh gosh my husband was in this situation when a co-worker came out to him a week before they came out at work. Husband spent a week trying not to refer to them directly, because he didn’t want to deadname them OR out them.

      1. Aggretsuko*

        Oh man, I’ve had two situations like that (now I’m in one with a relative who hasn’t come out to their dad yet). I hate it so much. Either you out someone or you misgender them and both are horrendously offensive.

        I absolutely get why relative is doing that–their mom died recently and relative just doesn’t feel like they can add that to dad’s plate, I get it, I wouldn’t want to either–but relative is supposed to be coming for a visit next month and hell if I know how I am going to handle the situation around my mom, because my mom can’t know if dad doesn’t and my mom would probably be blabbypants and hit the phone to call dad right off if she knew.

      2. Jezebella*

        I once had a student come out to me an entire year before he came out to the whole department. I spent a year thinking “he, but wait no, SHE, don’t out him!” and then for a while saying “sh….he”.

        I felt AWFUL when it happened.

    3. Clare*

      This is what I was thinking of. What if OP isn’t out about their autism everywhere? What if outing them to the wider staff allowed the information to spread to social circles where it’s not safe for them to be out? What if they were revealing on a job by job basis and didn’t want their next potential employer to know before they even go through the hiring process? Outing mental health issues isn’t ‘just’ hurtful and distressing with the potential for embarrassment – it’s downright dangerous.

  15. Eldritch Office Worker*

    If anything, OP, Jane is making the company less welcoming for autistic folks, not more. If your colleagues thought it was odd that this was shared, they’re also going to be worrying about how their own information may or may not be shared when they’re not in the room. This is going to make them less likely to tell Jane anything confidential if they can help it, which is going to impede folks from seeking the accommodations they may need.

    Your moral obligation in this situation, as a leader in the company, is to make sure HR is doing their job correctly. That’s it.

    1. pally*

      “they’re also going to be worrying about how their own information may or may not be shared when they’re not in the room”


      Gotta wonder where else Jane shared the OP’s information.

    2. Willow Pillow*

      I would extend it to any invisible circumstance. Newly pregnant, queer partner/child, etc.

  16. Watry*

    OP–I am also not openly autistic at work. Jane is being ridiculous.

    In fact, when people act like Jane is, it makes people even less likely to be open!

    1. Nelalvai*

      Another closeted autistic person dropping in to say Jane’s behavior is absolutely making the workplace LESS friendly to neurodivergent people.

      I have serious concerns about that company’s hiring process. How did someone who doesn’t understand something so fundamental to the job–and so fundamental to fixing the problems that lead to two settlements!–get an offer?

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Same. Then I read the whole post and it turned into ‘you’ve got to be fucking kidding me.’ The pressure is super inappropriate. Sharing confidential information takes it up several notches.

      If I was the CEO, I’d fire Jane immediately. This is such a profound error about a super basic and obvious thing that I wouldn’t have any trust in her to handle anything appropriately.

      1. MountainAir*

        I am not usually a “step one: you’re fired” kind of person, but I genuinely could not get my head around *the head of HR* behaving this way and keeping their job. How could you ever trust their judgment again?

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          I would also fire her immediately. Given that this is a known issue that she was in theory brought in to help with, she is clearly incapable of doing the bare minimum of the job she is charged with and has already opened the company up to legal liability. Out the door.

          1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

            Agreed. I am also not one to jump to firing most of the time, but there are some things that are just so egregious that it’s appropriate or even necessary. And this is one of those.

            1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

              Like, I’m usually inclined to advise having a real / serious conversation with someone to figure out what happened. But I can’t think of anything that Jane could tell me that would make this anything close to OK.

              1. Carrot*

                This! She should not have disclosed this information to the team without OP’s permission, period. Let alone everything else. No!

  17. Irish Teacher.*

    Whatever about you telling people yourself, which you shouldn’t feel obliged to do anyway, Jane telling people is the exact opposite of “becoming a friendlier place for neurodivergents.” If I were a member of your team and had a diagnosis I was unsure whether or not to disclose, her behaviour would make me wary of doing so because I could not be sure it would be in confidence.

    If there is anybody on your team with any kind of diagnosis, I suspect Jane’s behaviour would make them feel less secure in the company, not more.

    She basically demonstrated that she, as HR director has no respect for people who are neurodivergent and that people who are neurodivergent are not treated as adults who can make their own decisions as to who to divulge their information to, in this company. That is not going to improve the culture for those who are neurodivergent.

    I really don’t think your not telling everybody you are autistic contributed to the problems other neurodivergent people faced. After all, Jane knows you are neurodivergent and treated you disrespectfully because of that (talking to your reports about you without getting your permission) so it really doesn’t seem like knowing a senior member of staff is autistic necessarily leads to respect for those who are.

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      That is SUCH a good and clear point. In this case, openness about ND resulted in the few legally-required rights LW has being violated by none other than the HR director herself.

      What the actual f.

      I want LW to say those exact things to Jane as an illustration of why it’s the company’s responsibility to make things safe, and no amount of self-disclosure can change that.

  18. Michelle Smith*

    Yikes on bikes, OP, that HR director is so shockingly off-base I was reading your letter going “here comes another settlement, but for you this time”!!

    No, glaringly clear legal issues aside, you do not have a moral obligation to tell other people about your autism. Your company has an obligation to treat all people fairly and respectfully, regardless of their medical history and regardless of whether they disclose it. Unless you are treating neurodivergent staff poorly or failing to speak up for them when you observe it happening or receive a report, then you are NOT contributing to anything. It is not on the shoulders of marginalized, disabled, or neurodivergent people to be visible if we do not want to or do not feel safe doing so. Ever.

    1. BellyButton*

      Right! As I was reading it I kept thinking “this is the same as white people asking black people to explain racism.” It isn’t the job of the marginalized to educate others.

      Jane was literally hired to fix this issue and there she is making it worse!

  19. BellyButton*

    SMH. What in the world was she thinking? This is why so many people hate HR, because often people in HR aren’t actually trained or educated in it. Anyone in HR should 1000000000% know that you shouldn’t and can’t share things like that. JANE has a moral and ethical responsibility to know this and to keep her mouth shut. JFC.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      YEP. It’s easy for me to say “as someone trained in HR trying to make things better, we don’t claim her” – but when this is your experience with HR you aren’t going to trust anyone else in HR again. It makes the whole field look bad.

      1. BellyButton*

        Seriously. When people think I am in HR I am quick to say “I am HR adjacent” because I have rarely worked with anyone in HR who I would want to be associated with professionally. At my last company, my boss was someone who wasn’t a good “profession of the company” but the CEO thought she was good with people, so made her a SR Director of talent. She didn’t know a darn think about what I did, why I did it, or how I did it. I had to tell her a time or two that what she was asking me to do was illegal and/or ethically wrong. She was completely useless, but ya know “she is SO NICE”

    2. The Username Lost to Time*

      I assume it’s a Catch-22 situation that results in these HR gremlins popping up all the damn time. You know you need HR, but you aren’t sure how to attract, recruit, and select a competent HR Manager who will fit your organization. You’d need to have someone competent in HR and knowledgeable about your organization to help you through the process of hiring a good HR person. Of course, decent HR folks get hired by chance too.

      Or it’s about the salary. Offer a silly salary for an HR Director and get an HR Director willing to take a silly salary.

  20. trans and tired*

    Visibility can be good for groups of people who are stigmatized in ways that can’t be immediately identified on sight. But somewhere along the way, that idea mutated into the idea that members of said stigmatized population have a moral obligation to make ourselves visible, regardless of the impact it would have on our lives. And as I’m sure others will have already pointed out by the time I finish writing this, the people who try to put an obligation on us to be visible make it harder to be comfortable and safe actually being visible.

  21. Phony Genius*

    Jane has already told people without the LW’s consent. The law has already been violated.

    The trouble here is what to do? It sounds like the CEO may be the only person up the chain above the LW. Is there somebody acting in the CEO’s place? This should be raised to that person’s attention. If there is not, as much as someone on paternity leave should not be contacted, for a CEO there are some exceptions, and this may be one of them. Because the only other alternative may be legal action for the violation that has already occurred.

    1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

      Agreed. This is super serious. If I was the CEO and there was nobody else who could handle this in my absence, I’d definitely want to know about it ASAP. Before Jane can cause any more damage.

    2. Roland*

      I could be reading it wrong, but it sounded to me like OP meant she would trust the CEO for advice but he’s unavailable as meaning they have a good relationship, not that there’s no one else above her. At a medium-sized company, if OP were second to the CEO then it would probably mean she’s high up enough that it would be her own responsibility to deal with Jane.

    3. Autistic Letter Writer*

      There is someone acting up who I’m going to talk to. I think she had me so twisted up that I was worried she was right, and that the interim CEO would agree with her. But Alison’s response and the comments have been really helpful in reassuring me.

      1. allathian*

        Good luck! I’m hoping for a great result for you, and a speedy update during the update season in December. Jane needs to be fired yesterday.

    4. Dek*

      Yeah, I know I’d have trouble bothering someone on parental leave over this, BUT…

      how much damage can jane cause in her position in 3 months? Because I’m thinking it’s a LOT.

  22. Heart&Vine*

    I am consistently floored by the number of HR reps mentioned in these letters that seem to have a tenuous grasp (at best) of what their responsibilities are and what is or isn’t wildly out of line. No, you shouldn’t disclose an employee’s medical condition or disability to other staff (nor should you insist they disclose it themselves). No, you shouldn’t brush a manager’s physical/mental/emotional abuse of their employees under the rug. Yes, ageism/racism/sexism/homophobia is a real thing and yes, it’s considered illegal to practice it, esp. in the hiring process. Like… how do some of these people even get into this line of work if they refuse to exercise the basics of their job!

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      It’s an administrative position that doesn’t require formal training the way a lot of lateral positions like finance might, and it’s combined with other roles at a lot of places so sometimes people just stumble into it. Which I understand at the generalist level, but when you’re hiring a director level position at a company that clearly needs thoughtful HR interference…I don’t understand how this person gets this job.

      As someone who would love a job like this I frankly find it a little insulting.

      1. SheLooksFamiliar*

        ‘It’s an administrative position that doesn’t require formal training the way a lot of lateral positions like finance might…’

        Well, no. That’s not correct.

        HR actually isn’t an administrative position the way you mean it, and it does require training. Compensation, total rewards, talent acquisition, talent management, succession and workforce planning, learning and development, compliance…degrees in HR are a thing, and these are just some of the courses in college curriculums.

        The problem is that a lot of employers think like you do, Eldritch, and they hire/promote someone with good administrative skills. And they’re shocked to find out how much more there is to an HR function than keeping attendance and filing reports. At my company, a generalist needs to have specific skills and training, and no need for administrative experience beyond what any other employee should have.

        I agree that someone at an HR Director should know and do better, but if we’ve learned anything by reading AAM, it’s that this isn’t an issue limited to HR departments.

        1. Eldritch Office Worker*

          Please don’t condescend. I am an HR professional with a masters degree, dual certifications and over a decade of experience, I know what HR should ideally be trained to do. But in most places, it’s not a requirement to get a foot into the field. It does not *require* formal training. You cannot be hired as an accountant without knowing how a balance sheet works, you can be hired as an HR professional and expected to learn on the job. The question is “how does it end up this way”, and this is the reason.

          1. SheLooksFamiliar*

            There was no condescension in my comment, and thanks for sharing your clarification with me, another HR professional with over 40 years experience, degrees, certs, etc.

            Again, your comment was ‘It’s an administrative position that doesn’t require formal training the way a lot of lateral positions like finance might…’ My point was and still is that HR is NOT administrative and does require training.

            Also, since you used this example, I will too. I know a lot of companies that don’t REQUIRE formal training of accountants, either, my current employer included. Many just hire bookkeepers and hope for the best. And that doesn’t make accounting ‘administrative’, either.

            1. Pescadero*


              HR is, by definition, administrative.

              …and I know of no state which requires training/testing.

              1. SheLooksFamiliar*

                It doesn’t have to be state-required training or certification to be valid. And while HR is part of company administration, it’s not administrative as in rote work. My company considers HR a strategy CoE, and we function like one.

                1. Aitch Arr*


                  Even as a strategic CoE, HR is still part of G&A.
                  We are an infrastructure function and we don’t make money for the company.

                  On the topic of specialization, sure if you are hiring a Director of Total Rewards or an HRIS Analyst, you may want someone who is a CBP or knows SQL, but if you are hiring an HR Generalist, the PHR or SHRM-CP is not likely a requirement.

                  What should be a requirement, however, is an understanding of state, local, and federal employment laws. Clearly Jane didn’t have that.

                2. Aitch Arr*

                  Forgot to add, HR Ops is ‘rote’ (I prefer the term transactional) work.

                  The HR Business Partner CoE is more strategic.

                  Both are part of HR.

            2. Clare*

              I think you might be getting your wires crossed on the meaning of the word ‘require’. HR doesn’t ‘require’ training in that there’s no registering body like the ones for teachers or lawyers. You’re legally allowed to call yourself an HR person with no training, in a way that a teacher just can’t.

              To be any good at HR whatsoever you definitely need training. But it’s not a legal requirement before you can adopt the title.

              Also, my father is an administrator and has been for his entire career. It’s vitally important, highly skilled and highly varied work. Good administrators are the difference between success and failure in a business. I’d appreciate if you’d stop reacting like it’s a slur.

              1. Hrodvitnir*

                Thank you! I am *not* in admin and I’m pretty offended that they seem to be mostly reacting negatively to being called administrative.

                Of course HR is administrative, what? And a lot of HR is rote work – a lot of *all* work is rote work!

                Not a great look for someone in HR, ironically.

    2. BellyButton*

      I am HR adjacent— in my years of experience I have found very few people who actually have any sort of education/training/certifications in HR. Most I have met got there because they were “good with people”. HR used to be only recruiting, payroll, and benefits. That is no longer the expectation. I tell anyone and everyone who is interested in HR not to get a degree in HR- having a degree in HR makes you a generalist, and not an expert. Pick an area of HR that you are interested in and get a degree in that, be an expert. Not a generalist. THEN get a certification in HR through a professional org like SHRM.

      1. Anon for this*

        Excellent advice. My degree is in organizational change and management, and I have done additional study in my local employment laws and gotten SHRM and HRCI certifications. I am very aware of the things I am able to comment on and impact and the things that are outside my wheelhouse. Without simple ADA knowledge, I can’t imagine Jane has ANY employment law expertise – while I could see that for a generalist, it’s a huge liability for a director.

    3. Veryanon*

      I have worked in HR for many years and also have a law degree, which is uncommon but not unheard of in my field. It’s always amazing and disappointing to me how many of my colleagues, even on my own team, have very little knowledge of the employment laws they’re supposed to be subject matter experts on.

    4. kiki*

      HR is so important and way more complex than a lot of people give it credit for. A lot of times I see a company hiring someone who is good at one aspect of HR, like payroll, then putting them in charge of the whole of HR. Or they have one generalist in charge, which is good, but no specialists to advise them on some of the more nitty gritty issues.

      I think I’ve been seeing more of this too because so many companies have invested less and less in the training of their employees over time. Being continuously trained on the evolving laws and expectations for HR is important, but so few companies actually want to pay what it takes to keep up with that.

  23. SheLooksFamiliar*

    Even if Jane was right – and she IS NOT – the OP would deliver the message. It’s not Jane’s news to share, even during what I’m sure she thinks is open, transparent, supportive, and/or authentic communication for all the ‘right’ reasons.

    Jane stinks as an HR person, and also as a colleague.

    1. Nightengale*

      There probably are situations where – with explicit approval from the employee – someone else can be delegated to disclose on their behalf. I am thinking for example of someone who knows their language or anxiety may not hold up to a disclosure discussion, or where best practices communicating with an employee are better discussed before the first meeting. I am also thinking about when I was in medical school and begged rotation directors to disclose some of my disabilities to other faculty members on my behalf so that my needs would not be a surprise when I showed up day one using a cane and unable to do some procedures and having to explain this potentially in front of patients or other students. And I couldn’t disclose directly because there were multiple people and no way to predict who would be supervising me on a given day. (Largely this explicitly authorized disclosure did not happen, leaving me exactly where I did not want to be.)

      This is not that situation. But I do think there are cases where disclosure on someone’s behalf could be OK.

  24. Anon (and on and on)*

    This is the only job I’ve had where I’ve been open about my mental health (generalized anxiety and depression), and that’s because this is the first company I’ve worked for that I trusted to handle that information respectfully and legally. Your company has already PROVEN, twice no less, that it isn’t safe for neurodivergent people. Your being open about your neurotype isn’t going to change anything in your company! That’s not how this works! If anything, I’d worry about being being held up as some sort of proof that things have improved without your company actually having to change anything. Jane could point to you and say, “well, we clearly don’t have an issue with discrimination or an unsafe environment here, because we have an autistic senior leader.” Yeah, no. This whole thing is so backwards.

  25. jef*

    Oh I hate this feeling! And I hate when others try to put fixing this stuff on anyone who is ND or in whatever minority group it is. I was having a discussion about how I was burnt out and trying to recover from some major medical issues and so took a giant step back in being an advocate. Someone who really should know better basically told me that I had an obligation to keep fighting the fight. And how could I leave it to others to deal with. And don’t I know that this is the only way things will get fixed? The personal cost is never a consideration with people like Jane – it’s only about putting the onus on those who are suffering the consequences of being ND or in a minority group. Heaven forbid we offload this onto the majority group to solve!

  26. ohnooo*

    This is exactly why I have not told anyone I work with that I am autistic. I request accomodations via doctor note and do not disclose the reason for needing the accomodation. I have had people wildly change how they treat me after finding out, and it is so egregious that the HR person would share personal medical information like that. I’m so sorry this happened OP and I hope Jane realizes how much she messed up.

    1. MooCow*

      The exact same thing happened to me – work knowing what severe illness I’d had changed the way they interacted with me, to the point of trying to push me out.
      Nowhere in the Western world should an HR person ever share a coworker’s medical information in that way!! Maybe in China…

    2. Arts Akimbo*

      After I disclosed my autism to a new dentist, she begin talking to me as if she thought I were mentally challenged. I was so irritated. I did not stay with that practice, LOL

  27. Facilities Squirrel*

    commenting before reading to share how loud I laughed (it was a guffaw, pals) upon reading just the headline

    1. Anon today*

      Same I just wanted to laugh uproariously and also give Jane the biggest dressing down of all time. If someone tried to tell me I had to be the bipolar “support society” as someone brilliantly put it upthread I rly don’t know what I’d do

  28. Dulcinea47*

    This is a fine example of why to NEVER share your medical diagnoses with anyone… and why many of us will never ask for accomodations.

    1. Radioactive Cyborg Llama*

      Just like the burden shouldn’t be on the LW to be “out” about their autism, the burden should not be on disabled people to forego necessary accommodations. I sympathize with anyone whose place of work is truly not safe enough to ask for accommodations, but disabled people are entitled to reasonable accommodations under the law. I think “consider whether your workplace will be reasonable and law-abiding about accommodations” is (unfortunately) a good point, but “never ask for accommodations” is not good advice.

      1. Dulcinea47*

        It seems like you think I said “no one should ever ask for acommodations”, but I didn’t. I said *I* will never and I don’t really need the burden of being contradicted about my personal judgement for myself.

    2. MooCow*

      “This is a fine example of why to NEVER share your medical diagnoses with anyone… and why many of us will never ask for accomodations.”


      1. Stealth ADHD*

        Unfortunately, many online job applications are now asking for disclosure up front. I haven’t had to apply for a job in over a decade and came across this several times in the last couple of months. Big name companies. They even provide a specific long list of disabilities and ailments (visible & non-visible, including neurodivergence) when you reach this section. It wasn’t an optional question either so you could just move onto the next part of the application. You have to select yes or no.

        I’ve always answered no because it’s none of their business and my diagnosis doesn’t present physically. However, I wonder if it low-key counts against someone who is always honest and/or doesn’t know better. Also, if it can bite you back disclosing and requesting accommodations after the fact (and willfully lying to begin with).

  29. Generic Name*

    Ah yes, a member of the dominant group tells members of an oppressed minority it’s their job to fix their own oppression. Just no. While I hate thinking of being autistic as a “medical condition”, Alison is absolutely correct that Jane violated the ADA in sharing that information. I agree with the others, you are under no obligation to be your company’s autism ambassador.

  30. English Rose*

    Dear lord! We have active groups in our organisation for neuro-divergent employees and for other diverse groups, where people can share ideas, get support etc., but it’s not like our HR go around telling someone they have to join the appropriate group to set a good example!
    OP, Jane’s behaviour does not bode well…

  31. HonorBox*

    Woof. Jane is incredibly wrong here. Not only did she share your medical information without your consent, she is trying to force you to share your confidential medical information with more people than you have already. Sharing is up to you, as you’re comfortable doing so, and at the time you want to. She has betrayed your trust, she’s broken laws and she’s overstepping in her requests of you. This is something that the CEO definitely needs to be aware of… and I’d argue that this might be a situation in which it is OK to contact him while he’s away on leave. Not sure how much longer he’s out on leave, but it could be long enough that she puts you in a more uncomfortable position and the company in a very precarious legal position.

  32. Veryanon*

    Jane is a prime example of why people don’t like or trust HR professionals. And I say that as an HR professional.

    1. SaltedCaramel*

      I mean, I think it goes beyond that, because usually when people don’t like or trust HR, it’s because HR only looks out for the company’s interests, often at the expense of the employees. But this. Isn’t one of HR’s main jobs to protect a company from any legal liabilities with regards to staff? This is like a firefighter starting a fire.

      1. Garblesnark*

        Yeah, one of the main company interests HR is supposed to look out for is not being sued by the employees.

  33. Capt. Liam Shaw*

    Did LW actually tell Jane that they had accommodations in place. That is what this will hinge on.

    So many folks use the term neurodivergent to mean, well whatever quirky traits they have.

    And honestly not surprised what Jane is doing. Neurodivergent isn’t a medical diagnosis. She is trying to protect the company.

    My advice would be to get any accommodations in writing and in place pronto for anyone you know to protect yourself or your staff. Also get clear language to what the ADA does for those with accommodations. I would also get with the CEO as soon as they get back.

    Jane sounds like a nightmare.

    1. The Unspeakable Queen Lisa*

      What on earth are you talking about? Jane is not trying to protect the company by sharing an employee’s private medical information. She breached confidentiality. She also broke the law. This has nothing to do with LW having accommodations in place.

      If Jane were trying to protect the company, she would be *extra* scrupulous about handling private medical info, since there have already been two settlements. If she were trying to protect the company, she’d be talking to legal counsel to make sure all her i’s were dotted and t’s were crossed before ever opening her mouth.

      I think what you mean is you’re not surprised that Jane is being a bigot.

      1. Hrodvitnir*

        Hahaha. I got part way through their comment, pulled a face, and scrolled to see replies while saying “what [not on earth] are you taking about?”

        Seeing your reply made me laugh and lowered my blood pressure.

    2. Ellie Rose*

      “Neurodivergent” isn’t an official, specific medical diagnosis, no, but all the conditions it refers to (ADHD, severe depression, learning disabilities, etc.) are, AND she used the word autism specifically.

      if someone used the phrase “mobility differences” to group together people with wheelchairs, crutches, canes, and conditions without physical aids, those are all still considered medical disabilities.

    3. Irish Teacher.*

      While neurodivergent is not a medical diagnosis, the LW is autistic. Neurodivergent is an umbrella term and I am guessing it is being used here because while the LW is autistic, the employees who were treated badly in the past may have had ADHD or other neurodivergencies.

      And I don’t think it really matters anyway, whether the LW told Jane they had accommodations in place or whether she knew which particular neurodivergency she was diagnosed with. In any case, it’s not her place to tell anybody.

      Though it really sounds like she knew full well the LW was autistic, but even if she wasn’t. Even if she hadn’t been diagnosed with anything but just had some “quirks” that affected her working style, it would still be bizarre for her to announce to the LW’s reports that the LW is autistic or neurodivergent and to insist the LW tell the entire company.

      And what she did was the opposite of protecting the company. Telling people “your boss is autistic” puts the company at risk. I cannot imagine any way that would protect the company. I guess maybe she wants to use “we have a senior employee who is diagnosed as autistic” as defence if they get sued for discrimination against neurodivergent people again.

      I don’t think it matters whether the LW had accommodations in place or whether she told Jane about them or whether Jane knew her exact diagnosis. Regardless of the situation, Jane had no business telling anybody “the LW has autism.”

    4. Ellis Bell*

      You can’t be neurodivergent without a diagnosis of ADHD, autism or similar conditions. It definitely can’t be used to mean “a bit quirky” and no doctor is going to go along with that. Plus the accommodations aren’t the issue at all; it’s the fact that the reason for a person’s accommodations have been outed to all and sundry as though it’s just fun facts and quirks of personality, not the private medical information it is.

      1. allathian*

        Lots of people say they’re neurodivergent without having a formal diagnosis. Whether you can get the accommodations and support you need without a formal diagnosis is another matter entirely and depends largely on the jurisdiction and employer. Some employers are willing to provide accommodations to employees who need them without a formal diagnosis or references to the local ADA equivalents.

    5. Nina*

      Neurodivergent isn’t a medical diagnosis.

      Indeed. It’s a blanket term for a whole bundle of different medical diagnoses, many of which have very high rates of comorbidities.

    6. Autistic Letter Writer*

      Yes – I have several accommodations agreed in writing (flexible working from home when needed, limited meetings, disability leave). I was talking them through with her and told her then it was because I’m diagnosed autistic. I really never considered that she would tell anyone else.

      1. Vi*

        Okay, I know a million people have said this already, but it is 100% reasonable that you didn’t consider that she might tell anyone else…

        Because! She’s not! Allowed to!

    7. JustaTech*

      Capt. Shaw, I’m confused, how do you think that Jane was “trying to protect the company” by sharing the LW’s protected medical information?
      Especially when the company has had such egregious behavior against neurodivergent employees in the past that they have lost two settlements?

    8. Dek*

      This comment is bonkers. “Neurodivergent” isn’t a medical diagnosis, but many neurodiverse conditions ARE. LW said they had accommodations, which is why they disclosed to Jane. But I’m not sure why that’s what this will “hinge” on, because the accommodations don’t factor into Jane disclosing private medical information without consent, and pressuring LW.

      I don’t think this is her trying to “protect” the company. I think this is her trying to make the company Look Good by having a minority mascot.

      But either way, she just did the opposite of both.

  34. Jan*

    Jane sounds horrible, OP. Your autism is obviously nothing to be ashamed of, but it’s also nobody else’s business unless you choose to tell people. She had no right to make that call for you. And as Alison says, if Jane has shared this from your HR file, what else is she looking at and sharing?

  35. Nightengale*

    You do not have a moral obligation to disclose, not even a little bit. Not to improve company climate by having openly neurodivergent managers, not for any other reason.

    I am an autistic person who has disclosed general disability/neurodivergence but not autism at work for Reasons, although I am sure some people know. I am mostly just angry at the illegalness of what happened to you.

    Since I don’t have any useful words to attach to the angry part, I am instead putting in a plug here for Workplace Neurodiversity Rising, written by Lyric Rivera, an autistic person, to support making workplaces more neurodivergent friendly. The book talks about the pros and cons of disclosing and that of course in the US, formal accommodations generally require a disclosure of disability. No where does it state that a person has an obligation to disclose and in fact points out that making organizations more neurodivergent friendly often decreases the need for formal individual accommodations. I am prescribing this book for your HR person and I don’t want them to leave their office until they have read the whole thing and taken a test on the subject as well as the ADA and any other applicable laws on privacy. (You might want to read it too, as a neurodivergent manager of probably some neurodivergent people.)

    1. Autistic Letter Writer*

      Thank you, I will look it up! I’m not in the US so ADA doesn’t apply but we do have similar laws in place. However I’m sure most of it is still very relevant.

      1. Nightengale*

        Mine (and other people’s comments) about the ADA don’t apply but yes the book likely does. You’ve got a ton of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people pulling for you here – good luck!

  36. The Other Evil HR Lady*

    One more time, I am here to say that there are HR people who know how to handle this, and Jane isn’t one of them. I sometimes wonder who they’re hiring into these positions… People brand new to the industry who have a Master’s but have never worked in HR? Geez!

    They hired Jane to mitigate further lawsuits, and she just opened the doors to a brand new one. Way to go.

    The company gets no sympathy from me. I’m so sorry this happened to you, OP.

    1. I Wrote This in the Bathroom*

      I re-read the letter (because I was too horrified on first read to pay attention to the details) and what a mess! Company is already in more trouble for how it’s been treating its ND employees than any place I’ve worked at, and their response to that is bring someone in who immediately made things 10x worse? what the heck? I, too, want to know more about the hiring process that led to everyone deciding that Jane would make a perfect head of HR in these conditions. Please push back OP, we autistic folx are easy to guilt into accepting things as normal that are not and this one is not normal. It is not Jane’s place to tell anyone at the company about anyone else’s medical, mental health, etc diagnoses, what the heck?! Agree that this cannot wait till the CEO gets back, and hope for an update.

      1. Autistic Letter Writer*

        I am so easy to guilt! And I tend just to assume everything is normal and I must be in the wrong for thinking something seems off, which is definitely what happened here. I’m so reassured by everyone’s comments.

        1. Zarniwoop*

          “I am so easy to guilt! And I tend just to assume everything is normal and I must be in the wrong for thinking something seems off, which is definitely what happened here.”
          And Jane used this against you most expertly.

    2. Aitch Arr*

      I bet Jane knows someone and/or doesn’t have much HR experience, though a fair amount of overall work experience.

      “She was such a great Sales Manager, she’ll be great as an HR Director!”

  37. Mostly Managing*

    See, this is why when my kid was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 9, we left it up to her whether she wanted people to know. It’s HER information.
    Yes, there are times when it would be easier if grandparents knew. But they don’t.
    People only know if they need to – everyone living in the house knows, because it’s easier that way.
    Teachers at school know, because there is an IEP in place with accommodations.
    But the dentist? He doesn’t need to know. He knows she doesn’t like having people touch her face, and he tries to not lean his hand on her cheek the way he normally might.
    People at church know she doesn’t like loud noises.
    She should never have to disclose her medical information, unless it’s necessary to get the accommodations needed.

    This makes me mad!!
    OP – nobody needs to know unless you want them to. And that HR person needs a stern talking to from someone with authority

    1. Juicebox Hero*

      Thank you, thank you, thank you for loving and respecting your daughter this way. My mother had no qualms about telling all and sundry about everything I did and said, even stuff I supposedly told her in confidence, and I got either mocked or scolded when I tried to tell her I didn’t like it. Every kid needs parents they can trust, and my mother lost mine early and often.

      1. higheredadmin*

        This is a really important thread. I think as a parent there is a compulsion to explain away why your child is different, as opposed to just saying: this is what they need, and what you need to do, so this is how it is going to be.

    2. allathian*

      I don’t often recommend firing people without warning or giving them an opportunity to improve, but the HR director’s behavior is completely unacceptable. She isn’t doing her job, which is to prevent the employer from being sued by employees.

      Thank you for being such a loving parent to your daughter and for respecting her agency. It’s getting dusty in here all of a sudden…

  38. Fikly*

    There’s a reason the company has had to twice pay a financial settlement about this. You have grounds to become the third time.

  39. Ann Jansi*

    If Jane does not understand confidentiality – maybe you should not wait until the CEO is back. Is there an interim CEO/deputy CEO who can handle the Jane problem? A couple of months is too long to wait before this is taken care of.

    1. VP of Monitoring Employees' LinkedIn Profiles**

      It would be unfortunate if the interim/acting CEO turned out to be Jane.

    2. Autistic Letter Writer*

      There is, and I am going to talk to them. She really left me feeling that I was in the wrong so getting so much support here has left me a lot more confident in talking to the interim CEO.

      1. Aitch Arr*

        Good luck!

        Lots of internet commenters here – including actual non-shitty HR professionals like myself! – who are sending good thoughts.

  40. kiki*

    I hate that Jane is making LW feel guilty about this! I honestly think Jane is just trying to cover-up/obscure the huge issue here: that she, the head of HR, shared medical information about an employee without their consent.

    It doesn’t matter what Jane thinks LW should do– LW gets to make that call.

    And for what it’s worth, LW, I don’t think you have a moral responsibility to tell anyone about this. Jane is wildin’ for saying that you do, honestly. And in my opinion, well-communicated, solid policies and procedures for assisting neurodiverse team members is way more important than leadership sharing their personal stories. And one big policy/procedure that’s important is making sure that sensitive information they share with HR isn’t disclosed without their consent!

    1. kiki*

      I also think organizations use whatever diversity they can in their upper ranks to get away with not investing in better environments/accommodations for people lower down on the org chart.

      For example, an org I worked at frequently touted an exec who had ADD as an example of the company’s support for the neurodiverse. I think that’s cool, but that exec had a literal assistant whose job it was to help him with time management, minimizing distractions, etc. That’s not available to most people with ADD at the company. But when folks ask for accommodations for their ADD, HR/management says, “Well, Exec was able to do this without an official accommodation! So should you!”

      1. Autistic Letter Writer*

        This would be another concern of mine. I know I ‘get away’ with things that someone more junior wouldn’t, because I manage my own time and deadlines – I don’t have anyone looking over my shoulder. So along with the official accommodations I just work flexibly when I need to, but I know that this wouldn’t be an option for everyone (although it should be!).

  41. ReluctanttoBeABoss*

    OP, Jane is tokenizing you. I see this as her implying “We are good with neurodivergent people, see, one of our highest ranking staff is neurodivergent and that is us doing a Good Job being Good People and Allies.”

    As a fellow neurodivergent, I personally am very vocal about it because to *me* it matters to be visible. But I recognize that is very privileged position and not a great fit for everyone! You should never have that option taken from you. You have done nothing wrong and you shouldn’t be outed in this way without a choice.

    1. Sloanicota*

      Yep, a fair amount of the time a company wants to highlight you as someone they celebrate the diversity of, this does very little for you and a lot for them – but of course they’ll be irked at you if you don’t want your photo on the cover of the annual report or whatever.

  42. Annony*

    This is not a past problem. Your company currently has a problem with how they treat neurodivergent employees (including you). The head of HR shared confidential information without permission and made you feel violated and unsafe. I can see why the company has had to settle lawsuits. If another employee were to go to HR for accommodations, how safe would they feel disclosing a diagnosis if HR is telling them names of other people with similar conditions. They are immediately going to be afraid they will be added to the list and be the next example. Jane is actively working against her stated goal.

  43. Jules the First*

    I’m so sorry this happened to you, LW. I am one of the disability accommodation reps in our office (so people not comfortable going to their manager to request an accommodation can come to me and I can authorise it directly) and I’ve recently discovered that one of our senior hr staff doesn’t believe ADHD is a disability. And disability accommodation is overall part of their brief. So suddenly I’m fielding a range of requests from upset and demoralised ADHDers who have been denied legitimate accommodations. I still haven’t decided what to do about it, apart from going around the HR and approving their requests and asking them to quietly spread the word that neurospicy folk should come to me rather than HR.

    1. Autistic Letter Writer*

      That’s so bad. I’m actually diagnosed with ADHD as well and it’s very much a disability – I take medication for it, and the difference when I don’t take it for whatever reason is huge. I hope you manage to find a way round them, and I’m glad your neurospicy folk have you to go to.

    2. Rob aka Mediancat*

      I have ADHD (along with a couple of other issues) and I’ve run across people like this, at least one of whom was allegedly supposed to be helping me when I was a kid. Their attitude boils down to “All these people need is a little discipline! Why, back in my day we didn’t coddle people like this!” And so forth.

      Which seems to be the opposite of Jane’s problem; she not only believes in neurodivergent folks, she thinks they’re show ponies.

  44. SGK*

    One option (if you’re comfortable with it) would be talking to whoever is in interim leadership and letting them know that Jane shared an employee’s diagnosis without consent–you don’t need to share that it was you, and in fact “obviously I’m not going to share the name or details because the harm was someone doing exactly that” could be how you frame it.

  45. Dinwar*

    What Jane has done is to take away your voice. She’s decided that she knows better than you what actions you should take, since you’re neurodivergent. Imagine if this were applied in any other situation. “No, LW, you can’t use the scissors in the breakroom because of your disability.” That would be wildly unacceptable, and obviously so. It’s no different here.

    Your moral obligation is to make sure that Jane never does this to someone else. It’s illegal, it’s unethical, and it’s emotional blackmail. She needs to be informed that there will not, under any circumstances, be a recurrence of this.

    1. Fikly*

      The LW has no moral obligation to anyone other than themself, and to do what they need to do to be and feel safe.

      Period. End of story. Stop telling other people what they have a moral obligation to do for other people. Stop taking away their voice. The LW could lose their job if they speak up, and you have no way of knowing if this is the case. The consequences get worse from there, and even if they win some kind of settlement, that doesn’t mean they will be better off.

      1. Dinwar*

        “The LW has no moral obligation to anyone other than themself, and to do what they need to do to be and feel safe.”

        If they were just a low-level employee, I would agree. However, they’re a senior manager, and this places some additional burdens on them. One of those burdens is ensuring that the team obeys the law and that people involved in your work abide by company policy. Reminding a manager of the responsibilities they chose to take upon themselves isn’t taking away anyone’s voice; it’s a reminder of what the role is.

        The issue, to be clear, isn’t that the LW has autism. The issue is that they are aware of an egregious violation of the law and company policy, such that it makes certain employees unsafe, or feel unsafe. If the person involved was one of the LW’s reports, the situation would be clear and everyone would argue–correctly–that they have an obligation to correct this situation. I don’t think that the LW being the employee in question negates that.

        “The LW could lose their job if they speak up, and you have no way of knowing if this is the case.”

        Your argument, to be clear, is that the LW will be fired for reporting actions which violate both the law and company policy. That the company will necessarily retaliate against the LW for not allowing the company to ignore the law.

        You may be right, but if so there are so many other things wrong with the organization that the organization probably deserves to be shut down. I didn’t see anything in the letter to suggest that a manager acting as a manager and reporting egregious violations of law and policy would suffer retaliation (and yes, there absolutely WOULD be lawsuits and settlements–retaliation against whistle blowers is illegal, after all).

        If you are correct the only thing the LW can do is keep their head down and find a way out as quickly as possible. They should, in my opinion, also document everything, because when such companies come to the attention of the law–not “if”, but “when”–the LW wants to be sure they aren’t one of the people who goes down with the ship.

        1. Autistic Letter Writer*

          Thank you – this is a really, really helpful comment.

          My job is in no danger, and I’m very unlikely to face any serious retaliation.

          I think that part of the reason Jane had me worrying about this is because I do feel a sense of responsibility – I am part of the SLT and I do want to do the right thing. I was just very unsure of what that was as she very much left me feeling that I was in the wrong.

          I am going to speak to Jane and to the interim CEO. I don’t quite know how I see the situation resolving itself but I can make it to Jane that this was not OK.

          1. Zarniwoop*

            I see no value in you speaking to Jane again. You already know her judgment is unreliable. Jane has broken the law and put your employer seriously in the wrong.

            When you speak to the interim CEO approach it as asking him what he’s going to do about your privacy having been violated.

            And maybe consider getting legal advice.

          2. Autist*

            I’ve just read through your comments. Seconding everyone else in that you absolutely have no ethical obligation to disclose to anyone! That said, if you’re feeling that responsibility, maybe you could offset it elsewhere? In my experience lower down the rungs in a company, knowing that someone in SLT is autistic means nothing if there are still barriers to achievement or sustainable work at that company. Representation is important, but knowing that someone high up is autistic when they can delegate or has an assistant to take calls for them or is allowed to work remote when I had to work in an office that didn’t suit my sensory needs for work that could be done from home – doesn’t help me, and it doesn’t make the workplace any safer for me to be open (especially as “safety” is often about the other people you’re interacting with, who are probably at least a level or two below you and you might not interact with them much!). At best, it’s a “good for them”, *maybe* it’s “I guess if I had a big enough issue I could talk to them, but I’d rather talk to my manager that I like”, and at worst it’s “if I don’t have what I need to succeed here, I’m going to be blamed for it because Autistic SLT managed it”.

            On the other hand, people changing the system (regardless of whether they’re ND themselves or not) can substantially make things better. At the same company, I can now work from home and control my sensory environment, I don’t have to take calls any more, and I can manage my communication needs without it being a big deal. Some of that was covid, some was managers becoming better educated and more empowered to be more flexible when appropriate. If you feel responsible – those are the kinds of things you could change, that are probably more valuable than representation anyway.

            Being open is a personal choice, it’s not right or wrong. But an autistic member of SLT (whether open or not) means that in theory, other autistics could get to where you are, if they wanted. It doesn’t mean that in practice, other specific autistics will – and if there are barriers to those real people achieving what you’ve achieved, that’s where I would direct your sense of responsibility, if there’s anything you can do about them.

      2. Ellis Bell*

        I do usually agree with this stance. However, in addition to OP being pretty high up the food chain and obligated to not let someone target employees illegally, or put the company in legal trouble; they are actually the very first victim on HR Jane’s hitlist, and they are probably not done being targeted. It may very well be necessary to speak up just to protect themselves!

      3. Willow Pillow*

        100%. No marginalized person has a “moral obligation” to fight an injustice and harm themselves in the process (am autistic, have been there, it is harmful).

  46. Single Parent Barbie*

    I wish I could find the case, but I have switched jobs so Its not in my email. There was a recent court decision where basically an employee did not even have to tell their employer they were eligible for ADA . Autism would fall under the ADA so you don’t have to tell anyone. If I find the case I will link in the comments. I am ADD, which 90% if the time is actually helpful in my job, but I am in no way obligated to tell me employer I have it. So there is no reason you should have to tell your peers and coworkers. Jane needs to go to HR jail.

    1. Eldritch Office Worker*

      I’d be interested in seeing that case, the grand majority of recent cases have come out in favor of the employer. There are instances where you just need a doctor’s note that doesn’t include a diagnosis, just the need, but typically you still need to disclose you’re seeking ADA accommodations.

      Regardless, the employee disclosed this to HR as part of discussing ADA accommodations which is pretty much across the board legally covered as Do Not Share.

      1. Single Parent Barbie*

        Which is why it caught my eye. I know that 92% tend to come out in favor of the employer. I can narrow it down to between April 2022 and August 2023. But that’s it. Let me reach out and see if I shared it with a friend in HR.

    2. yooooo ND*

      My understanding is that to receive ADA accommodations, the employee needs to tell HR but then HR is legally bound to keep that information confidential, and only communicates the accommodation, not the disability itself, to the manager in charge of implementing it

      Source: Am ND, have a friend who is ND

    3. Aitch Arr*

      Is it Mueck v. La Grange Acquisitions LP, 5th Cir., No. 22-50064 (July 21, 2023)?

      If so that’s not quite what the decision said.

  47. Samwise*

    A meeting with a lawyer (employment lawyer, disability rights lawyer) for informational purposes would be wise. Have a chat about the (il)legalities in this situation, perhaps some if-then plans of action. Ask if it makes sense to inform whomever is interim for the CEO, ways to discuss this with such person/s if you don’t want to be specific about your situation.

    Worth the money to be informed and ready.

  48. Disabled HR*

    OMG. Your HR person is horrible. A) she should not have shared your information. B) only you get to decided if you want to share your medical information, to whom and when. c) you do not have a moral obligation to share. You should report this violation and guilt trip to your boss.

    That said, I personally do believe that if more people shared their disability information (especially those in a position of power) it will help remove some of the stigma attached to disability. I have chosen to be vocal about my disability because of this. But neither I nor anyone else has the right to tell someone else that they should share their story. Do I wish more people were open – yes. But that is for each and every person to decide. And just the fact that you have shared your story with your direct reports is huge. Thank you for that.

    1. Autistic Letter Writer*

      The thing is, I tend to agree with you! There is just something about everyone knowing that makes me very anxious. I also know that one of my colleagues on the SLT definitely holds a lot of prejudices against ND people, and unfortunately I do need to work with her.

      But I think that’s partly why I was very worried that Jane was right and I was wrong!

      1. Grumpy Elder Millennial*

        I think I can relate a bit because I have a couple anxiety disorders. Fortunately, I seem to be able to act like my normal self most of the time and I doubt many have noticed.

        I absolutely recognize that a part of breaking the stigma is for people to share their experience with mental health challenges. But I know that there can be costs for sharing. Because there is stigma. And you can’t un-ring the bell on something like this.

        For years, I didn’t tell a single person at work. I’ve started to share a little bit with colleagues and did have to tell a manager because of accommodations. So far, everyone has been great. But that doesn’t mean I’m eager to share more widely, since I’m afraid that people in leadership might decide that they can’t trust me with the important project (or whatever) in case I start having panic attacks and drop the ball.

        So as much as I’d like to be a champion for mental health in my organization, I choose to do it in subtler ways.

  49. Mitchell Hundred*

    I do wonder if Jane is aware that learning they’ve badly misread a social cue and then beating themselves up about it is a not uncommon experience for autistic people. I’d like to think that someone who was aware of that fact would have tread a bit more carefully around this subject.

    1. Irish Teacher.*

      Unfortunately, there are a certain subset of people who, when aware of this, weaponise it, consciously or unconsciously. “Some autistic people often find they’ve misread a social cue and beat themselves up about it, therefore any time I have a disagreement with an autistic person, it is clearly because they have misread the social cues and not my fault in any way whatsoever.”

      This group of people don’t feel in any way obliged to be more careful about their social cues. They just assume their communication style is the “correct” one and autistic people are just poor at it and need to be “taught better social skills” rather than seeing the issue as one of communication between two people who have different communication styles as a result of having different neurotypes.

      I wouldn’t be surprised if Jane fell into this group.

      1. Clare*

        Plus, these people somehow get away with it despite the fact that it’s a clear case of adding 2 and 2 and coming up with 5. If you’re about to talk to someone who might communicate differently to you, you put in more work to communicate clearly, not less. That’s true whether the differences are due to autism, speaking your language as a second language, coming from another country, or something else.

        Despite my best intentions I have accidentally offended many Americans on the internet due to cultural differences. But as a minority I couldn’t just declare “I’m right, they’re wrong”. I had to go away and learn how to communicate better. Non-neurotypical people are pushed into a similar boat. It’s time for the neurotypical majority to pick up some of the work for a change. It’s not that hard.

        1. Irish Teacher*

          Yeah, I know I have unintentionally given offence to Americans, possibly on this site on occasion. I know there was one situation on facebook where I made a post that just happened to sound like a comment on something that had recently happened in the US and of course, American readers assumed I was making a point about that, when I didn’t even know of the event.

  50. Ranon*

    This is… exactly backwards? First you create the safe space, then people feel comfortable disclosing.

    I had an employee recently disclose some health info to me but they did it after I showed that I was accommodating to their needs without detail, which made them feel like they could give me more detail.

    Gotta build trust first!

  51. BethRA*

    What the actual? Even if OP did have an obligation to tell people they’re autistic (which they 100% do NOT) that still wouldn’t give Jane the right to disclose that information.

  52. Fnordpress*

    When I came out as autistic at work, it helped me to relate to other co-workers who had learning disabilities or neurodivergence.

    On the other hand, it meant that management sometimes talks down to me, and I don’t think I’m always regarded as seriously as I could be. It’s a double edged sword. It should be your choice, and yours alone.

  53. Yes And*

    Every year, I take Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur off if they fall on workdays. I make sure everybody knows what I’m doing, and why, and that I will not respond to any communications on those days. I do this not for my own observance (which is spotty at best), but because I’m the most senior Jewish person on staff, and I want to set an example that religious observance will and must be respected.

    Here’s the crucial thing, though: this is something that I’ve chosen for myself. Jane is wrong wrong wrong to choose it for OP.

    My point is, Jane’s underlying reasoning is not without its uses. If someone (not OP, as they clearly told us) finds themselves in a position where they can SAFELY use their minority status to bend their organization toward the light, it’s a nice thing to do. But only the employee in question has the right to make that call.

    1. Disabled HR*

      I completely agree. As an HR executive with a disability, I have chosen to be very visible and open with my disability. Not for my benefit, but to help remove stigma. BUT, this is my choice. It is important for people to share their own stories IF they are comfortable doing so. But you can’t force someone to share more than they want. It isn’t anyone elses story to tell.

      1. Caramel & Cheddar*

        Can I ask how you (and you, Yes And) decided your org was a safe place to make this decision? We’ve been grappling with our lower level staff assuming our leadership doesn’t have as much diversity amongst them as they’d wish to see, but we have several leaders who are “out” in a quieter way than choosing to be very visible and open with it, so it may not filter down to the lowest rungs of the ladder in our company.

        It’s possible that even with a safer space at the top, most or all of them would still choose not to make the choices you’ve both made, but I’m wondering what environmental factors led you to your decision.

        1. Yes And*

          For me, it was less deciding they were safe than a test to see if they were. I have enough experience with bad workplaces, and enough capital built up in my career (a necessary and relatively niche skill set for my industry), that if it was going to be a problem, I’d rather know sooner than later. Fortunately, the company passed the test without incident.

        2. Disabled HR*

          I am newly disabled (just over a year) and was already in an executive position. Going through being newly disabled my immediate team and manager knew as they had to. After experiencing their support I realized I wanted to use some of the privilege that came from my level to purposefully benefit others who do not have the level of security I have. Could my boss or the CEO discriminated against me? Sure, I suppose. But I knew the chances were fairly small and the potential benefit for others would out weigh the risk to me. I know my organization is generally an inclusive environment but I have not seen or known of many openly disabled individuals at work. I now know many are, but work at hiding it for fear of being judged or mistreated. I hope to try to change that for even one person.

        3. Beth*

          This doesn’t answer your question directly, but, I’m wondering if the concerns you’re seeing among your lower level staff are really about diversity in leadership. A lot of the time, when I see people complaining about a lack of diversity, what they really mean isn’t “I want you to hire a POC/female/gay/disabled/etc CEO.” What they mean is “I don’t trust that I, as a member of X minority group, will be able to thrive here.”

          If that’s the case in your company, your leaders being more visibly out might not have any effect on the concerns people are feeling. (“Our diverse leadership kept quiet about their identities until they were very senior” is only a hair more encouraging than “We have no diverse leadership”!) Instead of treating visibly diverse leadership as a goal in and of itself, it might be more useful to look at whether your lower-level staff are, for example, seeing diverse employees get promotions at their level, seeing company-wide efforts to reduce microaggressions and increase inclusivity, seeing their different backgrounds and experiences treated as a source of strength–basically, whether they’re seeing team and company culture actively work to value diversity.

          1. Jules the First*

            This is really thoughtful and articulate. Could I borrow some of it to share with our diversity planning team?

          2. Caramel & Cheddar*

            For us it’s definitely the former, eg. there are folks in our leadership who have, say, invisible disabilities but I don’t know that the average employee who might think that’s a positive thing or feel encouraged by that knows that this is even the case.

            But you’re right that independent of that, it’s important for the day-to-day of work to be a place that fosters an environment where people can see themselves thriving there and there are ways of signalling that beyond just having a diverse leadership.


        4. Higher Ed Cube Farmer*

          Caramel & Cheddar, my unit has been navigating a similar issue –lower-level people assuming lack of diversity *or support-for-diversity* among leadership, and trying to figure out (a) how to accurately demonstrate where we actually stand and (b)
          what genuine diversity/equity issues need to be addressed versus what are projected assumptions or proxies for something else (say, culture–higher ed is notorious for grind vs work/life balance; or DEI conditions in our state (FL) versus our specific unit).
          I know *some* percentage of the perception of nondiversity is inaccurate, because people have complained about obviously untrue things like having “not even one” woman or person of color in unit leadership when there are multiple (as well as efforts to recruit/promote more, but I don’t expect the efforts to be as visible as the already existing people are). It’s not like LW’s case where visibility would depend on someone coming out about an invisible status– it’s impossible to miss that persons A and B are dark skinned, and persons C,D,E,F, G are women, and they hold leadership roles. Advertising that wouldn’t be outing them, but it would be tokenizing — and I don’t want to emphasize folks’ gender or color or whatever over their professional competence, anyway.
          And it wouldn’t help anyway, if complaints about demographic diversity are a proxy for something else. We’d need to address that hidden assumption instead. If “we need more women in leadership” really means “I feel like if we had more women in leadership we’d have more acceptance for family leave use and better work-life balance because women are more often primary family carers” … adding more women in leadership won’t solve it, especially if they’re career-driven and expect subordinates to share their priorities. But getting all leadership on board with a culture shift to promoting leave use and work-life balance, with benchmarks for success, could make a difference.

          It’s a work in progress.

  54. Hiring Mgr*

    This was the company’s plan for how to turn things around and stop paying financial settlements? Hopefully their other strategic initiatives are working out better..

  55. Freya*

    This makes me so angry as an HR Manager and as someone with ADHD.

    I tell people I have ADHD to model inclusivity and ensure that someone with neurodivergence is visible in a key role at the company. But that is my choice and something that I do as HR, knowing what privilege I have in my role.

    I would never disclose someone else’s private medical information needlessly or bully them into doing it themselves. I can’t stand when HR members like OP’s HR Director are just so bad at their job and perpetuate the myth that employees should avoid HR.

    1. Stealth ADHD*

      Why do some online applications ask for disclosure up front now with extensive lists provided? And only allow you to answer yes or no? Outside of physical/visible disclosure-related accommodations that make sense (wheelchair, back issues, etc.) for labor-related positions and such.

      I ran into this recently more than once while seeking a new job after holding a longterm position.

  56. newbie 101*

    If I was a junior employee at the company, I would now be really hesitant to go to HR – not just about inclusion and support, but about anything. Not everyone wants their coworkers or senior management to know about their diagnoses, and even in a utopian world free of prejudice, microagressions, discrimination, and ableism, it’s still your right to disclose that information. You can get supports or bridge communication gaps without needing to share that information, and hopefully that’s what the goal was when bringing on an HR person with the specific intent of supporting neurodiverse employees.

    As challenging as this is, I hope you speak up on behalf of your coworkers and junior/newer staff members. They need to see that this wasn’t acceptable and you won’t stand for this happening to them. They need to be able to feel they trust HR, and if you can’t actually trust your HR person with confidentiality and good judgment, it’s best to know now.

    Was her idea wrong? I see why she considered it a good idea, but she absolutely should have discussed it with you first, got a sense of your comfort with the idea, created a plan you agreed with, and then used you as a figurehead.

    (I say all this as someone who is increasingly open about being autistic at work after years of trauma, but who would feel horribly uncomfortable and unsafe if my medical conditions were shared without my knowledge or consent.)

  57. birb*

    Honestly, she knows better, and OP should report this and hope for re-training, and their boss needs to know.

    “I illegally told everyone your private medical information in an organization with a history of treating people like you badly, and if you’re upset it is a moral failure on your part!” sounds like a scramble to post-justify gossipping to me.

  58. LCH*

    Also curious how Jane was appointed, what her credentials are, what the interview process was, what questions were asked about how she has operated in the past because WTF.

    1. fhqwhgads*

      Yeah, clearly they did not ask her sufficient “tell me about a time when…” questions during that process.

  59. AnonyAutie*

    I no longer trust *anybody* with the knowledge I am neurodivergent.

    I once told a family member, who promptly turned around and used that in a court case against me (telling the judge I was not competent to have custody). Ick. Ick. Ick.

  60. fhqwhgads*

    Jane has a moral obligation to resign immediately is the only moral obligation in this story.
    But here’s hoping she gets fired at least.

  61. Justin*

    Yikes. I do actually share that I have ADHD at my current job because I think it’s important for people to see how much I get done and challenge stereotypes (and I’m also Black).


  62. Kate*

    I don’t think this is just an ADA issue, I believe this is also a serious HIPAA violation. HR is not allowed to disclose medical information of an employee without their consent.

      1. Manic Pixie HR Girl*

        Right. HIPAA does not apply here. It would only apply in the context of PHI as it relates to FMLA or health insurance claims (and, even then, only if the company is self-insured; they wouldn’t have this information otherwise). THAT SAID – ADA is less specific/restrictive about PHI (there’s a more nebulous “need to know” provision, meaning sharing it in the context of certain decision points and parameters is allowed), but even then it is generally under the confines of the formal RA process.

        The OP freely gave this information. They had a reasonable expectation of privacy, and therefore it was certainly inappropriate for her to share with others, and I question her ethics and professionalism in this context, but she technically didn’t break any laws.

  63. SG*

    Reading this blog (and based on personal experience) it really seems like HR has a disproportionate number of unqualified employees. It seems other professions don’t have this issue to such a stark degree. Does anyone know why this is? Why are there so many bad HR reps?

    1. Justin*

      I mean, it sort of reminds me of education, people really think it’s not that hard when it really is challenging, complex work. (I’m an educator.)

      Maybe because these are often heavily gendered professions not taken seriously by people outside of the field for that reason.

      1. Ellis Bell*

        Yeah it’s the age old underestimation of “soft skills”, together with the sexist conclusion that “ladies are good at that, let’s have a lady do it. They will naturally soothe everyone, making everyone feel happy, motivated and included; no training required!” I also work in education, and even though we have plenty more men in the profession these days, the Victorian mindset of having a natural inclination for the work still seeps through. I’ve heard it said, even from well trained and experienced trainers that we’re “naturally good with people” or “at ease with children” (what, thirty of them who are all kicking off?) and other things which are frankly anti-pedagogy. You can be the most charming and winning personality on the planet, but you won’t get far at all without training and experience.

    2. metadata minion*

      I think there’s a lot of sampling bias involved. A large percentage of workplace issues will eventually involve HR, and if they solve everything stunningly efficiently, nobody’s going to write to an advice blog about it. And you’re less likely to consciously make note of the fact that HR got you through intake paperwork smoothly and processes your benefits correctly and invisibly in the background during your tenure at an employer.

    3. Rachel*

      People worn functioning HR departments do not need to consult Alison to begin with.

      This blog provides some really beneficial insights to work and I’ve learned a lot. But by its nature, the entire point is to address problems people have. So you aren’t going to get a representative sample.

    4. Aitch Arr*

      Besides the other replies about sampling bias, HR traditionally wasn’t – and still isn’t – taken very seriously. It skews female and ‘Personnel’ mostly focused on payroll and other HR ops/transactional tasks.

      It’s only in the last 10-15 years that HR has become a strategic partner to the business. Back when I started in HR (~25 years ago), there was no such thing as an HR Business Partner or HR Centers of Excellence. Only very large orgs that I worked for actually had different departments within HR (e.g., HRIS, Benefits). In smaller orgs, everyone except for the VP was a Generalist. I used to joke that I did ‘generally everything’ which frankly wasn’t a joke.

    5. Alternative Person*

      To add to the already excellent answers, HR can easily skew humans as resources (in service of the company), not resources for humans (in service of employee wellbeing).

  64. JaneDough(not)*

    Adding one word for clarity, in case the LW uses Alison’s excellent script:

    “I looked into this further and realized that —your— sharing my diagnosis with people without my consent violates the confidentiality requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, …

    Otherwise, the sentence creates a miscue: “I realized that sharing my diagnosis with people” can be heard as “If I share my diagnosis with people,” meaning that the listener initially isn’t on the same page as the speaker and then has to do a biggish adjustment to get back to to “Ohhhh — you mean when *I* shared it or if *I* continue to share it,” and at that point the speaker is sharing other crucial info that the listener isn’t fully taking in.

  65. ACL*

    I’m autistic. While I generally agree with the advice in this post – please do not compare autism to cancer. Autism is just the way some people’s brains work. It is not a horrible disease like cancer. The comparison to trans/non-binary people is better, because those are not bad things either.

    1. BlahBlahBlah54345*

      Or homosexuality, or left-handedness, or perfect pitch. I honestly don’t think that autism needs a medical diagnosis any more than any of those other things. I hate the medical framing of it in our culture.

      1. Willow Pillow*

        I am autistic and I compare it to (my) left-handedness all the time. I have family members who were “trained” to be right-handed, but their brains were still wired as left-handed. I was not forced into such because we have better come to see it as a natural difference.

        Autism isn’t assessed based on traits themselves so much as trauma as the result of an inhospitable environment… but I don’t see that environment improving sufficiently anytime soon.

        Also, what is widely considered to be the “gold standard” for autism – Applied Behaviour Analysis/ABA – was adapted to create conversion therapy.

      2. Rachel*

        Please take this question in good faith.

        How do we reliably provide accommodations in education and the workplace without a diagnosis?

        1. Autist*

          It does depend somewhat on the specific accommodation, but many places already do! In my experience in education, it’s often pretty obvious that a certain thing doesn’t meet a child’s particular needs. Maybe they don’t answer questions the way you expect when you know that they know the answer, so you learn to reword the question in a way they understand. Maybe they get overstimulated from noise in the assembly hall, so you arrange for them to sit further back and/or use ear defenders. A lot of accommodations are pretty minor things like this – if you notice something isn’t working, you try and find something that does. Most teachers are already doing this constantly for all the children in their class, anyway.

          In the workplace, it could be things like – I need my coworkers and trainers to understand that when I’m asking for clarity on something, I’m not asking stupid questions or being pedantic or difficult or saying they’re wrong for doing it a certain way, that I don’t accept calls from clients (I’m not in a position where this would be typical) and that on calls with them my affect might vary and it doesn’t mean anything, and that if they need me at a different time on short notice that’s fine, but after I’m back to my normal routine I can’t shift that for at least a month. Most of these, you can just talk to people about or set boundaries. And most of these are things that many NT people also have preferences against – it’s just that for me, these things can affect my functionality for weeks or result in bad working relationships for being seen as “aggressive” or “cold”. Workplaces and bosses can just choose to work with employees in general on their own needs and preferences, without needing medical documentation to not take phone calls or to need warning for them. Obviously there are times it would substantially impact business needs, and that’s where there’s still a use for medical documentation. But many accommodations are minor and can be handled with a conversation and an email, and you can kind of just… do those.

          The thing that can be tricky is figuring out which accommodations are suitable, and selecting suitable workplaces and roles (e.g. I need to work from home, so I only apply for remote roles, and I don’t apply for jobs that would drain me and result in my not being able to function outside of work such as retail or sales – though this is very much a privilege that not everyone has), and that’s where identification as autistic can come in, so you can learn from other autists’ experiences and reflect on your own experiences. A medical diagnosis isn’t necessary for that – and many autists (particularly late-identified autists) find that medical diagnosis doesn’t give access to any other resources than you’d get from googling, anyway.

          Also, this assumes a workplace/education that operates in good faith and wants to make things work for employees/students, too. I’ve had to fight for accommodations, and I’ve been places where it’s no big deal. The places where it’s no big deal are so much better to work for, and get much better work out of me, too. If someone only has access to the places that make you fight for it, realistically it will be a struggle to get accommodations without a diagnosis. But I’m taking your question as a “literally, how exactly do we go about doing that” so I’m not going too deep into that.

        2. Nightengale*

          Truthfully, by completely overhauling the systems and it isn’t going to happen in my lifetime but I am working towards it.

          I’ll give a common classroom example. A child has difficulty with handwriting. By the current model the child needs to have a formal evaluation and be found to have a sufficient deficit in handwriting to qualify for services. Then they get the formal accommodation of typing. Under the current model they probably also get goals to improve handwriting.

          By the universal design model, all students can have the opportunity to type or handwrite. The student does not need a diagnosis and accommodation because their needs are being met.

          I was that child who couldn’t write and I had an evaluation but no diagnosis was given. It took decades for me to get the right diagnosis. I did manage to get some accommodations along the way, but the requirement for formal diagnosis and documentation was a huge impediment towards getting what I needed.

          Workplaces can accommodate all sorts of needs and differences without requiring formal diagnoses and outside documentation. They largely choose not to.

        3. Irish Teacher*

          Honestly, as somebody who may or may not be autistic, I really don’t think a diagnosis is necessary for accommodations.

          In fact, in the Irish education system, they have recently changed this, that accommodations – not just for autism, but in general – can be granted based on need, so if a kid is struggling with reading, they don’t necessarily need to be diagnosed as dyslexic in order to get a reader in their exams; the fact that their reading level is not sufficient to read the paper is enough.

          There can be issues with this, as there are parents and students who now want exemptions based on “such a subject is hard and I can’t do it,” when that is not sufficient, but usually, you don’t need to know exactly what is causing difficulty in a certain area in order to accommodate it.

          And honestly, with autism, I’m not even sure a diagnosis is much help for providing accommodations, since what helps one autistic person might not be any use to another.

          Generally, if something helps somebody and it can be done without too much difficulty, it makes sense to me to go with it whether the person has a diagnosis or not. My general rule in my classroom with regard to fidgets for example is that kids can use them so long as they do so appropriately. If they are fighting over them or throwing them around or making noise with them, then we have a problem, but if a kid is using them appropriately, I don’t care if the kid is autistic or has ADHD or just likes playing with the fidget. Same with doodling. I don’t care if a kid is doodling because they have ADHD or just because they love art and want to practice. If they are listening and participating in class, they are free to doodle.

        4. BlahBlahBlah54345*

          Answering in good faith. A left-handed person can ask for a left-handed school desk or left-handed scissors without a stigmatizing medical diagnosis. A gay person can ask for accommodations without a diagnosis. An autistic person should be able to ask for accommodations without a diagnosis, too.

          1. Willow Pillow*

            This assumes that the left-handed desks and scissors exist in sufficient quantity for all of the lefties. If they don’t, purchases require justification. Sure, people can ask, but asking isn’t the same as reliably being accommodated.

    2. To be or just to have, that is the question*

      I have ADHD. Autism is a really difficult neurotype to talk about, because there are many parallels with ADHD. However, the problem arises because they’re actually entirely different. Please bear with me while I take a detour to explain how and where the confusion can creep in.

      My ADHD medication cures me. I’m one of the lucky few for whom our currently available medications completely work. I’m living proof that ADHD is a disease that can be treated, not a ‘cool wacky’ neurotype like introversion or being detail-oriented. ADHD is not “Just how my brain works” – it’s what my brain does when it’s desperately screaming out for neurochemicals that my body, for some reason, just can’t supply. If my best friend snapped at me because he’s only had 4 hours of sleep, I wouldn’t say he’s an incurably rude person. His brain just needs some sleep. People behave differently when they are deprived of food, water, sleep and neurochemicals such as serotonin and dopamine, it’s a medically established fact.

      All of this is a massive red herring with devastating consequences for autism. There is no ‘cure’ or ‘treatment’ for autism, like there is for ADHD. People have ADHD or cancer. People are autistic. People with ADHD want you to know that ADHD is a disability. It is a horrible disease and we’d appreciate it if you’d stop telling us it’s a personality flaw, and judging us for wanting to be allowed to take our medication in peace. The autistic community want you to know that autism is a neurotype. They want the world to accommodate all those who think and act differently, no matter the reason. They want everyone to stop conflating being autistic with having a brain problem like depression or ADHD.

      The two might often come together, and they might both look similar from the outside, but being autistic is completely different from having ADHD, and both types of brain want you to know that!

      1. allathian*

        Thank you, there’s lots of food for thought in your post. I’m going to have to think about this for a while.

      2. Anon for this Disabled Autist*

        All Autists are not the same and we don’t all feel the same about our Autism.

        Some of us Autists feel more similar to ACL and Willow Pillow: Autism is just a way our brain works and isn’t good or bad, or advantage or illness/disability, except for how it fits specific circumstances created by human choice to work better for a non-Autistic person. We would like the circumstances and expectations changed, not our brains. We might be analogous to a trans or gender nonconforming person without bad body dysmophia: if we can socially transition and have our clothing, name, pronouns, social roles and identity accepted in society, we are fine. Or we might be like a person with dermal psoriasis: our body works and looks differently than most others–an autoimmune response produces unsightly and mildly uncomfortable skin plaques– but that difference doesn’t significantly affect our comfort or function if accommodated. We wouldn’t want to turn down our immune system, it’s overall beneficial even if this way it manifests is not typical.

        Some of us feel about our Autism more like To Be or Just To Have feels about their ADHD. We’re not “spicy” or “quirky,” we have a neurological condition that can be disabling, and would like to be able to control or treat its symptoms even if we didn’t want it completely changed. The way our brain works causes us pain or practical difficulties even in supportive circumstances, that can’t be solved by making circumstances or expectations more Austistic-friendly. We would like to change our brains not to meet neurotypical expectations, but to be able to live on our terms and not suffer. We might be analogous to a trans person with bad body dysmophia: social transition and have our clothing, name, pronouns, social roles and identity accepted in society does not stop our body being wrong for us; we need medical treatment with hormones or surgery to relieve distress. Or we might be analogous to a person with psoriatic arthritis: the same autoimmune condition that causes skin plaques attacks our joints too, making them stiff and swollen enough impair movement, and extremely painful. We might not want to turn off our entire immune system, but we would like to turn it down or recalibrate it to allow us to move without pain.

        1. BlahBlahBlah54345*

          I’m definitely in the first category. I don’t want to be “cured” and if you gave me a magic button that magically turned my brain into an NT brain, I wouldn’t press it.

          I honestly think that for most “high-functioning” autistic folks, the difference between your category 1 and category 2 is their early-childhood environment. Early childhood stress, such as the stress produced by a family or preschool that does not accept autistic people, can color one’s whole perception of oneself and jangle one’s nervous system to the point that even normal, everyday stressors are now too painful to handle. And even if you are in a very accepting environment as an adult, it doesn’t undo the early-life stress and the nervous system that’s now on high alert all the time.

  66. pally*

    If OP is asked to disclose personal information, then Jane needs to disclose as well.

    Jane needs to apprise all employees that she cannot be trusted to keep information in confidence. In fact, count on Jane to share any confidential information shared with her.

  67. But Not the Hippopotamus*

    This is so egregious, I honestly think it’s worth calling the CEO. The new head of HR doesn’t understand that medical information is confidential.

    Let that sink in.

    If they don’t get that a medical diagnosis of any kind is confidential AND they try to guilt somebody into sharing it… they shouldn’t be working in HR, better yet the head of HR. I wouldn’t trust Jane with my salary information, better yet my SSN.

  68. Overit*

    Example #4752 of Reasons to Distrust HR.
    (And yes, I am sure that somewhere in a galaxy far far away there is an ethical and caring HR team. I have as much chance of meeting them as I do of meeting Luke Skywalker.)

  69. Sage*

    I wonder how would Jane like it if someone in the company would tell her coworkers that she has hemorrhoids*. After all, according to her it would be good to “become a friendlier workplace for people with health issues” plus it would be important for her to be open as the highest member in HR.

    And also kudos to the coworker who told you about her overstep!

    *I know no one is born with hemorrhoids, plus there are no advantages having those.

  70. BlahBlahBlah54345*

    And this is why I never even sought a diagnosis of autism, even though I’m very sure it applies. I do NOT want that on paper. I don’t want some clueless HR idiot sharing it with my workplace, I don’t want it used against me in a potential custody situation (not that it applies, but who knows what may happen in the future), I don’t want it in my social life – the benefits of any accommodations I might get are far outweighed by the downsides.

  71. Ex-prof*

    It sounds like Jane’s intent is to USE the letter writer. Like, “Hey, everybody, look at this highly-placed autistic person we have!” Ugh.

  72. Ellis Bell*

    OP, please don’t feel guilty about Jane’s horribly self serving guilt trip. Not only is Jane way out of bounds in ever asking you to do this, but no way would it benefit other ND people in your company anyway. I honestly think you being the visible example of autism is quite likely the worst thing that could happen in a hapless company who doesn’t know how to include ND people privately, and definitely won’t protect you from any unintended consequences of going public. If you were to be more publicly open, my money is on the following happening: 1) Tokenism: from now on the company doesn’t have to do anything to encourage the progression of ND people; they’ve already got you as their token successful ND person to point to. Job done, and Jane can put her feet up. If ND people feel excluded and unsupported, they will simply point at you to prove that they should feel differently, 2) Stereotyping: when you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person. Do you think Jane et al know that? Or will they frankly disbelieve that different autistic people will have different needs, or different accommodations or different skills? Get used to people being told: “Well OP is autistic, and copes with that fine, so why can’t you? 3) I think in a company this uninformed, you’re going to start facing serious bias and less inclusion if you just come out to everyone instead of only to trusted people. This won’t be people second guessing their own approaches with you, but criticising your approach to them. So an interpersonal disagreement will be “well you can’t expect OP to have good social skills” and other lazy cliches. None of this will be dealt with appropriately, because the whole idea of having you come out was to make less work.

  73. I'm the Phoebe in Any Group*

    I want to provide my support. Your HR person is totally in the wrong. Your neurology is no one’s business unless you choose to share it. On top it being illegal, she is a really crappy human being.

    Is there another person you can go to while your boss is on paternity leave? Did he deputize someone to fill in for him while he is out?

  74. Fed up ND woman*

    This isn’t Hollywood, minorities aren’t meant to be props so Sandra Bullock can learn how not to be a racist. Some of us would just like to get through the day. Some of us can and will show the normies how not to be idiots around people not like them, but we’re not lesson dispensers.

  75. TokenJockNerd*

    Holy hell.

    In a truly welcoming world, ‘hey, I’m autistic’ would be relatively nonremarkable. Making a big deal about someone else being autistic would be really weird. This…this is weird and entirely out of line and boundary crossing and wtf. (And, tbh? A-dar is a thing. The people who need to know an autistic person can do high level jobs in your company? If they’ve met you *they probably already know*. This icky tokenization doesn’t serve anyone but ableist people!)

    This is so egregious. I’m so sorry it’s happening to you. And I’m sorry the other neurodivergent people are seeing it, too, because it’s creating a hostile environment for them as well. What a way to shut down requests for accomodations. But obviously it’s most directly happening to you, I don’t want to take away from that in any way. Let us know how it turns out?

  76. Mmm.*

    My workplace is too small for HR, and even the relevant managers follow HR’s traditional rules when you disclose information to them: They keep their mouths shut. They also work their butts off to provide accommodations.

    Where did they find this lady???

  77. Never Knew I Was a Dancer*

    I’m incensed just reading this letter. Where in the world did this HR get their training if they thought publicly sharing someone’s personal health information was okay? Heck did they even GET training? In anything?

    OP I’m sure there are plenty of comments before mine offering great advice in how to talk to your HR about this. I offer you my astonishment and anger in solidarity. Just—wow.

  78. MJ*

    Yes, this is egregious because the employee wasn’t consulted. My take on this is that the employee is awesome to have broken the glass ceiling and I may have made the same mistake. So this has been a great learning curve for me. Thank you.

  79. Anonymouse*

    I realize this is advice for the LW and not Jane’s boss, so I can understand Alison not going there…but the first thought that sprang into my mind was “Yikes, Jane needs to be fired ASAP.” She shared confidential medical information without the LW’s permission! It doesn’t matter whether her stated intentions were good (although good or not, they were horribly misguided, and I’m so sorry this made the LW wonder if they’d done something wrong), openly sharing someone else’s private medical information seems like a bright line for a senior HR professional.

    The backdrop of this company having a history of treating ND employees badly, enough that folks brought legal action against them and obtained settlements, just makes that violation of the LW’s medical privacy all the more unconscionable. If your company was known to be homophobic, deliberately outing someone as gay, even someone in senior management, is almost inviting them to be harassed or mistreated in the future – even if the company has a stated goal of changing the company culture in that area for the better.

    Everyone messes up sometimes, but this seems to me like the kind of thing a senior HR person doesn’t get a second chance on. I say this not in a spirit of vindictiveness – this is a very serious mistake, and I think the appropriate consequence of this kind of colossal misjudgment about confidential employee information is no longer being in a job position where you have access to confidential employee information. (How can any of the LW’s direct reports trust Jane as their HR manager after this, knowing that she’ll share private employee information with other people?)

  80. Flare*

    I am in full support of parental leave being protected time, and I *still* feel like it might not be inappropriate to contact the CEO and let them know this happened (just that it happened, without a particular demand for action before they return) so they can make a choice about whether they want to engage with it immediately to mitigate against additional damage. Good grief.

    (LW, you are under no such obligation and I am so sorry someone has managed to get to a place that they have that HR job and doesn’t know that. Gross.)

  81. Mimmy*

    I recoiled at the headline alone! Jane had no business telling people you’re autistic, just like she shouldn’t be sharing anyone’s medical and personal information. First, it takes away your choice about whether to disclose. Second, this could easily be lost in translation. I think people in general have a much better understanding of autism than in the days of Rain Man, but people will still have their assumptions.

    I do hope you bring this up to the CEO when he returns from paternity leave. I wish I could suggest telling him sooner, but that wouldn’t be appropriate.

    1. But Not the Hippopotamus*

      I don’t know. If there’s nobody else to tell, and you were the CEO, wouldn’t you want to be looped in that your new head of HR is putting the company at liability? I would!

      Honestly, I am 100% on board with the “do not bother people on time off unless it’s critically important,” but this hits that mark in my opinion. In a few month unsupervised, somebody this banana-ensemble and in that particular position could really hurt the business! How many letters have we seen where a rouge-HR person caused all sorts of mayhem? This is a major failure of professional judgement.

  82. Alice*

    Re obligation to disclose – my manager told me, “maybe if you weren’t so private about your situation caregiving for a high risk person, your officemates would be more willing to wear masks.”
    Lady, I told them “at risk of dying from COVID even after being vaccinated,” and they could care less. Do you think I should go through the details of each diagnosis and that will get a different result?
    OP, I hope you can address the problems with your org and your new HR person. Good luck.

  83. Bo Peep*

    I don’t know who needs to hear this but you do not EVER need to be “out” about ANYTHING in ANY situation. Work, friends, family, wherever and with whomever (with the exception of a spouse/partner, I suppose). No one is entitled to know the details of your neuro-stuff, other health stuff including pregnancy, family situation, sexuality, gender identity, ethnicity, even small stuff like genetic hair color, or even ice cream and pizza topping preference – unless you decide to share, and even then you’re not obligated to share every single detail. It’s not being “not brave” or not honest. And any coming out that’s forced or “strongly encouraged” is awful, because it’s not on your own terms and now it means you’re stuck being Autistic Emily Who Has Autism, Leader of the Autistics, instead of just Emily, who shares her diagnosis when and if she’s comfortable.

    I hope people stop this. Don’t encourage people to out themselves if they haven’t told you they want to. Just let them know you care about them and support them, and trust them to out themselves (and possibly become “representatives” or “examples”) when and if the time is right.

    1. allathian*

      I agree, although with the caveat that it’s not always possible to remain in the closet. You can’t hide your disability if you use a wheelchair, as an obvious example.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        Of course, but this is not about hiding things about not being forcibly outed by someone else/their policy. More about choosing to share if they have an impairment and what their impairment is (even the person in a wheelchair could choose not to disclose why they use one).

  84. Raida*

    I think that there’s a need here to clarify –

    this HR person is not saying “everyone should share their medical status in regards to neurodivergence”
    they are saying “This person is a leader in the organisation and them being open about their autism will be of value in my strategy”

    But instead of *actually making* a strategy, sharing it with the leaders, and then discussing with the people who’d need to ‘step up’ and agree to this approach about if they are in agreement about their personal responsibility or not.

    Yes definitely have a meeting about this – but be very clear in not using hyperbole. Don’t suggest it’s a slippery slope where everyone has their medical status in the business directory. Be clear that they may not share medical information without clear written consent. Be clear that you are interested in their PLAN and make it clear that if this is not part of an overarching strategy then it’s an automatic ‘no’ from you.
    Frame this as “The business sucks at this, I will not support the business sucking in a new and different way”, including that it’s a BUSINESS RISK to pressure any staff to share personal medical information because a personal opinion is that it’s the ‘right thing to do’.

    1. Autist*

      I’m not sure it matters if it’s part of an overarching strategy or not, honestly. If anything, that would make it worse – that the director of HR planned a strategy that hinges on specific people being more open about their personal information, did not ask those people, began sharing private information to the company and then pressured them to allow them to continue to share that information. It also would further the questions about HR’s competence – if she was brought on partly to improve conditions and not only did she make them worse, but she made them worse as part of an active strategy which would have given her even more opportunity to just not do that? This is already an egregious mistake, if she actually planned this mistake that raises even more questions about her competence for the job. You can’t make an environment a better place for ND people if you can’t approach those people respectfully about a strategy that affects them, and she didn’t.

      I do think this is linked to the business sucking at this, but in that they don’t seem to fully understand their issues or be able to screen for someone with the appropriate skills and understanding to make positive systemic changes. But Jane putting the company at legal risk (when they’ve already had two lawsuits surrounding this kind of issue!) isn’t a problem with her plan, it’s a problem with her work behaviour and calls into question her ability to do the job. I don’t think OP needs to soften that when this is addressed, and I don’t think OP is obligated to be interested in her plan – regardless of their seniority.

      It might be valuable for her strategy or for the company’s DEI initiatives for OP to be more open, but OP still wouldn’t be obligated to and after this, they don’t have to be interested in her plan, either. If anything, being more open in this environment could have unwanted side effects – more junior employees might assume that means it’s safe for them to be more open, too, and then experience the same kinds of issues that have raised two lawsuits already. It wouldn’t necessarily be valuable to OP or to those employees, who are the people Jane is supposed to be supporting.

  85. AnneC*

    Oof. The old saying in the autistic community for this sort of expectation is “self-narrating zoo exhibit” (credit to OG activist Jim Sinclair, IIRC). It is totally inappropriate for casual social relationships, let ALONE a supposed Human Resources professional! Color me entirely gobsmacked. And I say this as someone who is casually out as autistic at my own workplace, at least in the sense that I’ll address it if it comes up and/or if I want to speak up so that other potential neurodivergent folks on staff who may be less comfortable discussing it don’t have to. But this is all my own choice! Not anything my bosses or HR require or would ever dream of asking.

  86. Guliver*

    Jane is quickly going to cause the company to pay financial settlements numbers 3, 4, and 5 if she isn’t reined in.

  87. Elio*

    Wow, it sounds like this company really likes paying out financial settlements so much that it would love to do it a third time. Violating the Americans with Disabilities act isn’t cool. When I had minor surgery a few years ago, my supervisor said he wasn’t allowed to ask what it was for and I only had to provide information from my doctor about the recovery time. Anyway, I bet they want OP to tell everyone that they are autistic so they can look like they aren’t discriminatory by saying, ” see look, this person is autistic.” It’s like that letter a while ago where OP’s grandboss wanted him to out himself so the company looked like it cared about gay people.

  88. TrueTalesFromHR*

    Jane needs to be removed from her role ASAP. She violated HIPAA and then tried to guilt you into telling others about your diagnosis to hide her misdeed. Please escalate this.

  89. Dek*

    My jaw is on the *floor*

    This woman is the HR DIRECTOR?!? That they brought in AFTER having to pay settlements?

    What the what.

  90. Karak*

    Jane is out of line, and one big reason is your company has had a track record of legally actionable hostility towards neurodivergent people. The company needs to make sure people feel safe to share, not pressure them to do so.

    The other issue that we *all* have health issues we keep personal. Is Jane announcing her period and IBS symptoms and ingrown hair on her butt at the beginning of every meeting? No? Hmmmm….

Comments are closed.