I've written before about BrewDog (here and here), the multinational Scottish craft brewery accused by hundreds of former employees of systemic mistreatment through its sexist and misogynist work environment. The brewery's founder and CEO, James Watt, stands at the center of much of controversy and most point to him as the root cause of most of the allegation.
Earlier this week, Watt appeared as a guest on The Diary of CEO podcast. During the interview, Watt blamed his pattern of mistreatment of employees him possibly being autistic.
I started exploring as to whether I am a little bit autistic and it's still something I'm exploring at the moment. But working with some specialists I think I might have some kind of light-level autism in the mix that would explain some of the social cue thing, some of the mindset thing, and some of the awkwardness as well. … I was chatting with my doctor, and she’s like, "I've thought that for a while, James, quite possibly." So I'm working with a specialist at the moment to see if there's a diagnosis there or not.
Having a disability, any disability, is not an excuse or justification for mistreating others.
Employees with disabilities are held to the same performance standards as employees without disabilities. The ADA requires you to offer a reasonable accommodation that enables a disabled employee to perform the essential function of the job. But that legal requirement does not mandate that you lessen or weaken performance standards, including standards against harassment, bullying, and other mistreatment. To suggest otherwise suggests that a disability excuses such misconduct, which could not be further from reality.
Further, while social communication differences can characterize those living with autism, no one should use it as excuse for their mistreatment or abuse of others. It suggests that having a disability is a failing and a shortcoming. We should focusing on the strengths and abilities of people with disabilities, not further ostracizing them by using their disability as a crutch or excuse for their unacceptable behavior.
As the CEO of a multi-billion-dollar international business, Mr. Watt has a massive platform, which he should be using to educate the world about living and succeeding on the autism spectrum (if he ever receives such a diagnosis), not to foment further fear and uncertainty about that community.
* Image by Jeremy Segrott, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons