It is estimated that around 1 in 10 people have dyslexia. It predominately causes reading and writing difficulties but memory, mathematics, organisation and sequencing skills can also be affected.
Dyslexia is a disability and workers with this condition are protected from discrimination under the Equality Act 2010.
There have been a number of employment cases which provide some pertinent advice for employers.
1 Don’t allow your staff to name call
You would think that it should be perfectly obvious that dyslexic staff should be treated with dignity and respect by their colleagues and managers and these messages are often reinforced in diversity or equal opportunities training. None the less, some employers still get this lamentably wrong. The owner of a barbers shop who referred to one of their female hairdressers with dyslexia as “thicky Vicky” and, after she complained, sacked her was guilty of both direct disability discrimination and discrimination arising from a disability - Fenn v Schreeve EAT.
2 Consider whether there any reasonable adjustments you can make
Most of the reported cases involve allegations that the employer has failed to make reasonable adjustments to ameliorate the disadvantage to the employee across a range of workplace situations. For example:
In Noor v Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the EAT found that changes should have been made to the interview process to accommodate a dyslexic candidate disadvantaged by the fact that he had been asked questions about competencies not listed in the job description during the first interview. The EAT made it clear that employers must remove any disadvantage to “eliminate the practical difficulties and embarrassment … caused and create a level playing field” for the interview.
But, it was not a reasonable adjustment in Haynes v Chief Constable of Gloucestershire to dispense with a promotion board interview in circumstances where an experienced policeman sought promotion to a more senior level.
Disciplinary and grievance hearings
The Employment Tribunal recently took Starbucks to task for its failure to adjust its standard procedures for dealing with misconduct allegations against a member of staff with dyslexia. The minutes of the meeting were handwritten so she couldn’t read them and this placed her at a substantial disadvantage. Starbucks also required the claimant to sign and agree the notes at the end of the meeting, which again put her at a substantial disadvantage. She also needed more time to read and understand typewritten documents and providing these two days before the hearing was not deemed to be long enough. They were also criticised for typewritten documents provided in an extremely small font and in single line spacing. This aligns with professional guidance which recommends that documents should be font size of no less than 11pt, use clear typefaces such as Arial and increase the spacing between lines. Kumulchew v Starbucks, ET.
It might also be appropriate to adjust the right to be accompanied and allow dyslexic members of staff to bring a family member or friend to assist them at disciplinary or appeal hearings – Robertson v Otis Ltd, ET.
A dyslexic consultant neonatologist dismissed for bullying colleagues claimed that her condition made it more likely that she would engage in that type of behaviour and sought to argue that her dismissal was a breach of her employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments. She argued that the practice of normally dismissing employees for gross misconduct should be adjusted. The EAT disagreed and indicated that the “subtle problems of perception and misreading of verbal cues are a world away from the sort of behaviour of which the Claimant is accused.”
Dyslexia, like many disabilities, is part of a spectrum and may be mild or much more serious. Whilst there are no hard and fast rules about whether this will in all cases be a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act or, if it is, what is or might be a reasonable adjustment, these cases demonstrate that an employer who knows that an employee has this condition must consider whether they are disadvantaged when applying for work, seeking promotion or in respect of enforcing workplace rules. If they are, then there is a risk of disability discrimination claims and they must consider making changes to level the playing field and remove the disadvantage.