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Disability Discrimination & Dyslexia

Equality Act

Is there a requirement to make reasonable adjustments for an employee with dyslexia?

A case which has been in the news recently is that brought by Meseret Kumulchew against Starbucks for disability discrimination. This case serves as a reminder of an employer’s obligation to consider reasonable adjustments for employees, even when the need to do so may not seem obvious.

The Law

Whether an employees is a ‘disabled’ person or not for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010 will depend on the individual circumstances of each employee.

The legal definition of disability is set out in Section 6 of the Equality Act which, in summary, is that a person will be disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has an adverse effect in their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, and the effect is substantial and long-term.

There have been previous cases where dyslexia has been considered to be a disability, however when determining disability for legal purposes each case will depend upon the facts and medical evidence available.

If an employee has a disability then employers have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments for that employee where a provision, criterion or practice, or physical feature of the premises places the disabled employee at a substantial disadvantage.

The Facts

Ms Kumulchew was employed as a Supervisor at a branch of Starbucks in London. One of her jobs as Supervisor was to record water and fridge temperatures on a duty roster.

Her manager noted that she had been recording the wrong information and accused her of falsifying the documents. As a result her duties and responsibilities were reduced and she was told she would need to retrain.
At her disciplinary hearing Ms Kumulchew informed the person dealing with her disciplinary that she had dyslexia and they told her she had to prove it.

Ms Kumulchew denied falsifying the information and stated that because of the allegations she felt on the verge of suicide.

Ms Kumulchew pursued various claims in the Employment Tribunal in particular alleging that Starbucks were fully aware of her dyslexia and that she had difficulty with words and numbers as a consequence. She claimed disability discrimination on the basis of Starbucks failure to make reasonable adjustments and victimisation.

The Decision

The Employment Tribunal found in favour of Ms Kumulchew stating that the disciplinary and written warning amounted to discrimination arising from her disability.

The Employment Tribunal were fairly damning of Starbucks stating that their witnesses had a lack of knowledge of equality issues and had failed to follow their own internal awareness policies and procedures.

Points to note

Even if an employee does not directly disclose to you that they have a disability if it is reasonable for you to have made further enquiries with an employee or if a reasonable person would have identified that a person has a disability you will have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

What action do you need to take?

  1. Ensure that you have adequate procedures in place to identify employees with disabilities and to identify any reasonable adjustments.
  2. Ensure that your managers are trained on disability issues including dyslexia.

Case Name

You can read the full judgement at this link Kumulchew v Starbucks – Employment Tribunal

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The information contained in this blog post is provided for guidance and is a snapshot of the law at the time it is written. It is provided for your information only and should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice that it specific to your particular circumstances.

The guidance should not be relied upon in any decision making process. It is strongly recommended that you seek advice before taking action.

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