ADHD at Work

ADHD Is a Protected Disability… But I Still Face Discrimination

“I was told by the senior manager of a neurodevelopmental children’s service that I shouldn’t be a nurse if I have ADHD.” While ADHD is a protected disability, many adults say they’ve experienced discrimination at work because of their disorder.

six business people shoot from above
six business people shoot from above

We all have the right to basic employment protections and equal opportunities under the law — regardless of gender, race, religion, disability, or other characteristics. But discrimination in the workplace happens. And it can happen to anyone.

According to a 2022 report by NASDAQ, 55% of U.S. employees have faced discrimination on the job and 61% have seen it happen to others. 1 Despite those statistics, discrimination can be hard to identify and even more difficult to rectify. It often falls on the victim to recognize the signs of inequitable treatment by a boss, coworker, or potential employer. Feelings of shame or low self-esteem can dissuade employees with ADHD, anxiety, or depression from speaking up.

A recent ADDitude reader panel found that many adults with ADHD have experienced bullying, demotions, or wrongful termination because of their ADHD symptoms. Some readers never knew why they struggled in the workplace until they were diagnosed later in life. Others said they performed their responsibilities well but were punished for disclosing their disorder.

Have you ever faced workplace discrimination, been refused accommodations, or lost a job due to your ADHD symptoms? Did you seek legal counsel? Let us know in the comments section.

“[I’ve experienced] mostly microaggressions and things you can’t quite be sure about. My forgetfulness is often taken advantage of — like reimbursements and vacation days that disappear because I didn’t claim them and nobody reminded me. Although I have more seniority than anyone else, I’m usually getting responsibilities taken away from me for no noticeable reason while others are getting new opportunities without asking and without me hearing about it.” — Amy, Pennsylvania

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I was asked to step down because of my memory and slow processing speed. I didn’t know I had ADHD at the time but took a three-month leave of absence, got diagnosed, and started working with a coach. I returned to work in the lower position offered to me because we needed the income, working for someone I had hired myself a year earlier. It was humiliating but truly made me proud of my strength of character and courage in facing the situation head-on. I did not pursue legal action.” — Lisa, Colorado

“[The discrimination] happened before I was diagnosed. The overwhelm of the job was great; the fear paralyzing; the humiliation degrading and depressing; the physical and mental anguish of being a highly sensitive person all consuming… In the end, I was no longer functioning well. My general practitioner blamed stress, from which I would later resign. I would seek legal counsel but, because I felt that it was me who was fundamentally unable to do what other people seemed to do, I shamed myself. I could not follow through with legal action for fear of more public shaming.” — Jules

“I did not know that I had ADHD yet. I kept missing little things as an auditor and was talked into quitting. At my current job as an accountant, I used to have the most colorful spreadsheets in order to compensate. Now that I’ve been diagnosed and medicated, I no longer require overly colored spreadsheets and I make far fewer errors than before. It’s been life changing!” — Sara

“I was dismissed after failing to cope with a substantial increase in areas of responsibility; I became fragmented and overwhelmed. I sued for wrongful termination and was awarded a settlement by the courts.” — An ADDitude reader

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“I was subjected to workplace bullying, but I did not know at the time that I had ADD. I was also precocious — I became an RN at age 19 — and some of what I faced had to do with my young age around a much older workforce of peers… I would not be diagnosed with ADD for another 18 years.” — Cindy, Florida

“After [sharing] my diagnosis, my job responsibilities were removed. I was a senior teacher for 20 years, and then I was offered a demotion to a substitute teacher. All my students’ grades were excellent and any observed lessons graded outstanding. I had to seek legal action and a settlement was reached.— Chris, London

“I was told by the senior manager of a neurodevelopmental children’s service — responsible for assessing and treating children with ADHD — that I shouldn’t be a nurse if I have ADHD and should find a job where I don’t need (reasonable) adjustments.” — Sara, UK

“Unfortunately, I’ve lost a few jobs due to excessive tardiness and not completing tasks by deadlines. I didn’t seek legal action because I didn’t realize I had ADHD or that it was a protected disability.” — Christina, Louisiana

“I was diagnosed in 2021 at the age of 57. My employer, who I’ve worked with for 10 years, simply couldn’t understand some of the implications — namely, what does and doesn’t work — of ADHD in the workplace. I’m still there and am finally, after 18 months, making some progress in this respect.” — An ADDitude reader

“In college — before being diagnosed — I worked a desk job as a scheduler for a pest control company. Unfortunately, this was before the Internet; this job required inputting addresses into the schedule that were given over the phone by the client. After multiple incidents of transposed or incorrect street numbers, I was let go.— Jennifer, Missouri

“As a manager with ADHD who is willing to speak about disabilities, I am pretty much an anomaly. I’m sure I’ve been passed over for promotions because it’s assumed I’ll be flighty and disorganized.” — An ADDitude reader

“I’m in the UK and I have disclosed [my ADHD] to two employers. Both have been understanding and supportive in principle, but I have to be the one to learn about my options and advocate for myself. That’s not easy to do!” — Meg

“I don’t feel comfortable sharing my diagnosis at work, even though I work in entertainment and the majority of us probably have ADHD! But I have been penalized for things related to ADHD: for example, having a hard time with short-term memory and in-person recall on demand.” — An ADDitude reader

“When I was in the nursing field, I worked on an ICU unit as a technician. There were a few mean girls who complained I wasn’t fast enough. My boss told me I looked scattered and asked if I had ADHD. After I disclosed, I was put on a work action plan. I eventually left.” — Christina, Massachusetts

Discrimination in the Workplace with ADHD: Next Steps

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View Article Sources

1Schmidt, C. (2022, March 2). 6 statistics to better understand the extent of discrimination in the workplace. Nasdaq.