Starbucks discriminate against a dyslexic employee: Avoiding that pitfall

09 Feb 2016

Starbucks have today hit the headlines for being found to have discriminated against a supervisor who suffers from dyslexia.

The supervisor had responsibility for taking and recording the temperature of water and fridges on site at particular times but had difficulty dealing with reading writing and telling the time.  She was disciplined for allegedly having falsified documents when she mistakenly entered wrong information.

She succeeded in arguing that her employer had failed to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate her condition and had discriminated against her for a reason arising from her disability.

Dyslexia is a common condition. It is estimated that one in ten people has dyslexia to some degree.  Difficulty in reading, writing and spelling will often impact on an employee’s ability to do their job.

What are the implications for employers?

It is highly likely that a dyslexic employee will be regarded as disabled under the Equality Act. That means the duty to make reasonable adjustments will kick in. Support such as modified duties, adapted work methods, extra time or assistance from colleagues or the provision of recording devices will need to be considered. Remember that it is only reasonable adjustments that must be made and an employer is entitled to have regard to the cost and effectiveness of adjustments.

Provided an employer has given proper thought to those adjustments they will ordinarily be entitled to expect a satisfactory level of performance. Where problems continue to persist, whether relating to performance, attendance or conduct an employer is entitled to take action to address the issue.

However, if the problem arises as a consequence of the disability, the employer will need to be able to justify its actions. Here, clarity as to the particular problem, its impact on the employer and the attempts made to support the employee and to overcome the problem will be critical.

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