Autism, Employment and Me
I am currently employed as a part-time waitress. I only got the job because my friend worked there and she recommended me.
My employer has decided to define my job as ‘casual work’ in the belief that she doesn’t have to adhere to any employment legislation. I am only told my shifts a few days in advance and I am expected to be available whenever she needs me. I’m not on a ‘zero hours contract’, I don’t have a contract at all – I don’t officially exist. I still have to declare my earnings to the tax office though, otherwise I could get prosecuted.
As a casual worker, I am still legally entitled to holiday pay under UK law, but I do not get any. I don’t get any sick pay either. I cannot take time off if I am ill because there is no one to cover for me and they would have to close the café, which would make me very unpopular.
In order to get the job, I had to do a 3 hour work trial, for which I received no pay. The boss takes the money from the tips jar at the end of the day and issues the staff with £10 each when she feels like it (which is not very often). I’m told that this is illegal too.
I am also expected to do six different jobs at the same time, because she is too tight to pay any extra staff. When it’s busy, I am practically running from one place to another, to try and get everything done. I work a six hour shift without a break.
Unsurprisingly, I would like to get another job. However, even the crappiest jobs seem to require a cv and an interview these days. I found a weekend waitressing/kitchen assistant job advertised at a nearby café, but even this required a cv and I simply couldn’t face applying for it.
As an autistic person, I find the formal job application procedure almost impossible. I find it incredibly daunting and the whole thing makes me feel deeply uncomfortable. It’s partly because the dishonesty involved offends my sense of honour and partly because I’m just not very good at it.
I wonder how many other capable autistic people are trapped either in exploitative situations or who cannot find a job at all, purely because they are not very skilled at deception and are consequently incapable of succeeding in the jobs market.
I’ve had a large number of different temporary jobs over the years, some were through agencies (where there is no formal interview) and some were through word of mouth. I can’t think of a single instance where I was not excellent at my work, but I wouldn’t have got a single one of these jobs if I had been required to go through the formal interview process.
In the past, I have always told the truth on my cv/application forms, which probably explains my lack of interviews. It never occurred to me to blatantly lie before, but I’ve finally realized that that is what you’re supposed to do. This is a revelation to me. You might think that it’s a simple matter, but I find all the falseness extremely problematic. I’ve tried my best to get the hang of it.
For example, I had a look on the internet for some tips on cvs for waitresses and here are some of the suggestions:
- Accurately recorded orders and partnered with team members to serve food and beverages that exceeded guest’s expectations
- Skillfully anticipated and addressed guests’ service needs
I mean ‘partnered’, ‘service needs’…. I would be too ashamed to write such utter drivel on my cv.
Even if I get an interview, I am very unlikely to get the job. I am so conscious of my inability to play the game, that I am terrified that my feeble attempts at dishonesty and ‘spin’ will be discovered. I probably come across as evasive and shifty, which is ironic.
I have no objections to being asked appropriate and relevant questions at interview, such as:
- What qualifications do you have?
- What relevance experience do you have?
- Why do you think that you would be good at the job?
However, I strongly object when an employer asks questions which have no relevant to your ability to do the job, such as:
- Why do you want the job?
This is my business. Questions such as this are inappropriately personal and intrusive. They make me feel deeply uncomfortable. I have thought of a number of perfectly genuine reasons why someone would want a new job.
- I need some money
- It’s more money than I’m on now
- It’s nearer to my girlfriend’s house
- I hate my current boss
- Everyone at work is really bitchy
- I was promised a promotion, but they lied
- I want to drop them in it by quitting unexpectedly
- I had a one night stand with a co-worker
- I’m scared that my current employer might get rid of me because I’m useless
I’m reliably informed that none of these reasons are appropriate, so when an employer asks you “Why do you want the job?”, they would be putting you in a position where you forced to lie, which I consider to be morally unacceptable.
I came across an application form for a part-time Kitchen Assistant the other day and it wanted to know what endorsements I had on my driving license. I suspect that when an employer asks questions that have no relevance to your ability to do the job, it is designed solely to remind you that they are in a position of power. A worker who is intimidated is more likely to be a compliant and obedient worker.
It is said that wearing ‘smart clothes’ to a job interview is supposed to give people confidence and make them feel competent and successful. Perhaps this is the case for the average neurotypical person, but for me, it has the opposite effect. I feel humiliated, as if my entire identity has been stripped away from me. I feel so compromised and uncomfortable that I wish that the ground would swallow me up.
I find it impossible to respect a system which pretends to find the best person for the job, while rejecting good candidates for arbitrary reasons. Perhaps the successful candidates are chosen because they remind the interviewer of her niece, they like watching rugby, they have nice shiny hair or went to the same school as the interviewer – I can only speculate.
It is sometimes hard to believe that the entire grown-up world seems to operate in a way that ensures that jobs are deliberately given to the incompetent. Think how much more efficient and well organized the world would be if employers chose candidates because of their competency, not because they are good at telling lies.
I’m 50 now, so a lot of employers wouldn’t employ me anyway because I’m too old (yes, that’s illegal too). I veer between bitterness at the fact that employers don’t think I’m good enough to work for them and utter contempt for a culture that thinks that this is an appropriate way to operate.
I would like to see legislation which forces employers to offer a work trial instead of a formal interview if the candidate requests it, as it could be argued that the formal job application procedure discriminates against those with autism spectrum conditions.
I do need to point out that, as ever, this is a generalization. I have an autistic friend who claims to be very good at job interviews, but in general, autistic people often have significant difficulties with the formal job application process.
In an even more ideal world, I would like it made illegal for prospective employers to ask questions which have no relevance to your ability to do the job, but I certainly won’t be holding my breath on this one.
I have sacked my boss. The tips jar disappeared one day and when I queried it, she informed me that she had decided to give all our tips to charity. I did try to explain why this is unacceptable, but I just got a torrent of abuse . I’ve put up with a lot, but an employer who steals from her employees is utterly contemptible . I sacked her by text message, then immediately blocked her number – that felt good.