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03 May 2016

Employment

Dyslexia and Reasonable Adjustments

Organisations run the risk of being liable for discrimination claims if they fail to make reasonable adjustments for employees with dyslexia, says Daniel Wilde. 

Organisations will be aware that since 1995 employees are protected from discrimination on grounds of disability in the workplace. The definition of disability encompasses dyslexia, a learning difficulty that typically involves difficulties for affected individuals in information processing, and often involves difficulties in reading and writing.

Dyslexia can be a disability under the Equality Act 2010. A disability under this act is a physical or mental impairment that affects a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. The adverse effect must be substantial and long-term.

In most cases, dyslexia will count as a long-term physical or mental impairment, so the issue is whether the impact of dyslexia on each individual is severe enough to have a substantial adverse effect on that person’s normal day-to-day activities.

Making reasonable adjustments

Losing a discrimination case can result in adverse publicity to an organisation, as Starbucks found when one of its employees won a disability discrimination case based on dyslexia. Starbucks disciplined its employee, who was dyslexic, for falsifying documents after information was entered wrongly on a form. An Employment Tribunal found that the employee had been discriminated against after making mistakes due to her difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time. Although a financial award will be made against Starbucks, the widespread coverage of the case in the media will be of equal concern.

Although the case does not set a legal precedent, employers need to be aware of how to address dyslexia in the workplace. The British Dyslexia Association estimates that one in 10 people have dyslexia to some degree, even though some employees may not be formally diagnosed.

The duty to make reasonable adjustments aims to make sure that as a disabled person, an employee, as far as is reasonable, has the same access to everything that is involved in doing the job as a non-disabled person. An employer is under a positive and proactive duty to take steps to remove, reduce or prevent obstacles that an employee faces as a result of his/her disability.

This duty can include changing the way things are done, making changes to overcome barriers created by the physical features of a workplace, or providing extra equipment or assistance to do something to assist the disabled person.

What is reasonable?

Various factors influence whether a particular adjustment is considered reasonable.  The test of what is reasonable is ultimately an objective test and not simply a matter of what the employee or employer personally thinks is reasonable.

When deciding whether an adjustment is reasonable, an employer can consider –

  • how effective the change will be in avoiding the disadvantage that the client would otherwise experience
  • its practicalities
  • the cost
  • the organisation’s resources and size
  • the availability of financial support

What types of adjustments can be made?

Most employees suffering from dyslexia are likely to have some difficulties, including writing and/or interpreting information. Specific adjustments could include –

  • publishing company-wide information in alternative formats, such as audio files or large print
  • enabling the staff to have a choice of coloured backgrounds, overlays and fonts
  • creating the right workforce environment
  • possibly providing specialist one to one training for dyslexic employees, such as time management, organisational skills and concentration for memory improvement techniques
  • considering assistive technology and software, such as voice recognition and work prediction software
  • considering proof reading options.

However, these examples as a general guideline only, and each individual case must be looked at in the context of an individual’s particular difficulties.

When does the duty arise?

The duty arises at all stages during the employment relationship, from pre-recruitment through to circumstances in which employers are considering disciplinary action. For example, in the Starbucks case, the employee was disciplined for falsifying information when the discrepancies in data arose in consequence of the employee’s difficulties with words and numbers. In this particular case, the employee complained that she wanted more time to be able to fully understand and become familiar with the task, and someone to check her work for mistakes. These adjustments had not been made.

Adaptive software will cost me money – do I need to make the adjustments?

Potentially, yes. The duty to make reasonable adjustments takes into account the size and resources of the employer, but generally it would be expected that the cost of low cost adjustments will be met by the employer. In some circumstances, financial support can be provided by the Access to Work Teams at the DWP.

Employers should ensure that employees who are disabled are provided with reasonable support in the workplace. Working practices, policies and procedures should be reviewed so that employees know how to seek support and managers know how to respond to such requests. This will help avoid costly tribunal claims.

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