Case update (2): Disability discrimination – Reasonable adjustments

disability discriminationSummary: Should reasonable adjustments have been made for a dyslexic employee whose duties included making written records at specific times?

Yes, said the Tribunal in Kumulchew v Starbucks.

Background:

Duty to make reasonable adjustments:

This duty arises where a provision, criterion or practice applied by the employer puts a disabled person at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with those who are not disabled. The employer must take such steps as it is reasonable to take to avoid the disadvantage. It can also arise where a disabled person would, but for the employer’s provision of an auxiliary aid, be put at a substantial disadvantage in comparison with those who are not disabled. Here the employer must take such steps as are reasonable to provide the auxiliary aid.

Dyslexia as a disability:

Dyslexia generally presents difficulties with words and numbers and sufferers need to be shown how to do tasks visually. Dyslexia, like many medical conditions, is part of a spectrum and may be mild or much more serious. Whether dyslexia is deemed to be a disability under the Equality Act 2010 definition will be dependent upon the severity of the individual’s condition. If it has “substantial” affects on his/her ability to carry out normal day-day activities then it will likely be a disability. If not, then it will likely not be. This is an area where each case will need to be reviewed on its own facts.

Facts: Meseret Kumulchew, the employee, was a supervisor at a branch of Starbucks and was responsible for taking the temperature of fridges and water at specific times and entering the results in a duty roster. She was accused of falsifying the documents after erroneously entering incorrect information. The employee was given fewer duties and was informed she would need to retrain. This left her feeling suicidal.

The employee brought a claim against Starbucks at Tribunal alleging disability discrimination. The employee claimed she had always disclosed to her employer that she was dyslexic and suffered with problems at work such as difficulties with reading, writing and telling the time.

The Tribunal found Starbucks had failed to make reasonable adjustments for the employee’s disability and had therefore discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia and her ability to carry out her day to day duties at work. Instead of finding ways to support her and assist her in fulfilling her duties, Starbucks accused her of falsifying records and treated her unfavourably.

The Tribunal also said the employee had been victimised and there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of equality issues on behalf of Starbucks.

Implications: This is a useful reminder of the importance of making reasonable adjustments when an employer is aware of an employee’s disability. Once an individual has informed their employer that they are suffering from any recognised medical condition or symptoms which could afford them disabled status, the employer should take steps to inform themselves of the nature of the condition and how this may affect the employee in the workplace.

In this case, Starbucks thought that the employee was falsifying documents but she actually had a medical problem. Some proper investigation and advice might have highlighted the dyslexia and how the role could have been adjusted. For example, getting a colleague to double check a temperature and how it is recorded or allocating the duties a little differently so that a task which requires a particular skill gets done by another. Providing information or training in a more accessible format is another relatively simple adjustment that can make a huge difference.