Starbucks has lost a disability discrimination case after it wrongly accused a dyslexic employee of falsifying documents when she had simply misread numbers she was responsible for recording.
The equality legislation is vague on whether dyslexia constitutes a disability. It defines a disability as “a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on … normal day-to-day activities”. However, it does go on to suggest that under stressful conditions people with dyslexia can be seen to suffer such an impairment. Thus employers should assume that a dyslexic employee may well be protected as disabled.
All organisations must make reasonable adjustments for those with disabilities, including dyslexia, under the Equality Act 2010 to ensure that a disabled employee is not seriously disadvantaged in performing his or her job. Employers should also have appropriate policies in place and make sure that discrimination is avoided in the recruitment process and the work environment.
The employee in this case had made her employer well aware of her dyslexia but they had failed to make reasonable adjustments for her disability, more particularly her reading difficulties, and had discriminated against her because of the effects of her dyslexia. The tribunal also found that the employee had been victimised by her employer and there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of the equality issues.
This case emphasises how important it is for employers to try and understand the effects that an employee’s disability has on that particular employee and whether the employer can take any reasonable steps to ensure the employee is not disadvantaged in the workplace. This case should also serve as a bit of a ‘wake up’ call for employers as dyslexia affects as many as one in ten people, although many have not been formally diagnosed, and thus appropriate allowances and adjustments must be made if an employer is to avoid falling foul of the equality legislation.