A situation has cropped up at work leaving people feeling “vulnerable, angry, frustrated and disappointed” by my actions. What was the action? Well, I decided to delay paying people’s salary by eight days. Yep, that sounds pretty horrendous when it is stated in it’s basic form but it wasn’t something I did lightly or in a planned manner. It happened because I found myself in a difficult situation and I made a decision that I thought was best in the long run.

So what was the situation? Well the first influencing factor was that it was 25th May, the day that the new data protection regulations came into force. Now I know most people are not interested in hearing about GDPR (even though it is one of those things you really ought to understand) but the point is that the even though the regulations seem unclear when it comes to marketing, the rules around data handling in general are pretty specific. Now since I am autistic, once the terminology is understood, applying the regulation in its broad sweep is quite mechanical. In fact, with the help of lawyer supplied templates, the process is rather boring.

The difficulty seems to come with getting people to understand what part of the regulations apply to different parts of their business. As I wrote about before here, getting agreements in place is proving frustrating and some of the email conversations are enough to me to need a lie down in a quiet, blacked-out room to recover from. Being drained by non-ending stim inducing conversations, I left work to go home and do just that, recover in a darkened room.

The next situation that was overtaken my mind focus was the fact that I was travelling to Northern Island from Scotland the next day for a week long holiday. I was taking the car over on the ferry. Now being autistic means that travelling for me is rather anxiety riven. I had a boat to catch the next day at 1.30pm and a three hour drive to get there. A drive I hadn’t done before with a car that need some attention regarding fuel, windscreen fluid and tyre pressure. Then there was food, packing, insurance, money let alone all the chores left to do in the house. None of these things were major (though the drive was quite a biggie particularly as I hadn’t booked the ferry) but they all add up and play on the mind. Well my mind anyway.

So there I was, brain still a bit frazzled by the GDPR contortions, trying to pull together a plan of action for the travel to Northern Island when I realised that I hadn’t paid the bills at work. Or the payroll for that matter. And I needed to drop the dog off at his holiday home for the week. It was the last thing that I wanted to do, but I went back into work and tried to plough through the financial transactions. Hopefully I went through the bills correctly and plugged the right figures into the banking system. It was hard work but I finally got to the bottom of the pile of bills and invoices. Payroll was next.

Now payroll for this small business involves for each employee:

  1. Checking timesheets for overtime, holiday, and other unusual activities
  2. Entering hours into a spreadsheet to calculate pension, national insurance, and tax payments
  3. Filling out a payslip form
  4. Checking the calculations with government supplied software
  5. Looking at discrepancies between the two systems and working out where the issue is
  6. Submitting the payroll information to the revenue office
  7. Creating transactions in the banking system
  8. Filling out pension contributions in another system
  9. Checking them against the spreadsheet calculation and sorting discrepancies
  10. Submitting pension information

Given that this year in Scotland we have two additional tax bands to take into account, I hope you can see this is quite a mental challenge to undertake.

I decided that I couldn’t trust myself to do the payroll correctly. My mental capacity after the day I had had, and the day that was coming up, was just not up to the task. I emailed my colleagues to let them know of my decision. There was still another six days to go before the end of the month and my assumption was that this was enough time for them to sort out the finances and move money around if necessary. This does assume that they have money in other places to do this but I judged this was probably the case. In hindsight I wish I had used their home email addresses to inform them of my decision and apologies for the inconvenience, but I didn’t think of that.

I picked up my work emails four days later and found two complaints from employees.

There seem to be a few assumptions going on but at the heart of it, I feel like people really don’t understand what it is like to be autistic and get to a point where my brain will no longer function correctly. It is not that I choose to do GDPR over payroll, the payroll didn’t come into it, I was focused on GDPR. Now being autistic means that I will often get completely absorbed in one subject and normally my electronic diary would notify me of things I need to remember, but this didn’t happen for payroll like it usually did. (And now I am wondering if that is because I have inadvertently turned off notifications because of GDPR settings.)

I want to point out various things about how I pay people. The fact that I don’t pay them one month in arrears but actually include pay for at least a week they haven’t worked yet. The fact that it is the last Friday of the month because this makes it easier to remember for everyone (but not certain to remember) rather than the last day of the month. That it is good financial practise to have a few months wages set aside in case of emergencies. But I don’t say any of these things because I know it is missing the point.

The point is that the employees were rightfully expecting to get paid on a certain date and that didn’t happen. The reason for this is my fault. I’ve apologised for that, but it seems that isn’t good enough. I have tried to explain my reasoning but I think the underlying difficulty here is that this autistic person has limits on how much mental processing can go on in one day. And I wonder, how much information on autism is needed for people to understand that limitation. Is this an opportunity to educate the organisation about autism? Or am I the one that is feeling vulnerable, disappointed, frustrated and angry because I made a mistake that has hurt people and I have failed to explain why I did it to their satisfaction. I wonder if there is anything I could say that would prevent the hurt.

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