Craft beer brewer Brewdog is set to pay out £12,000 to a former employee who was sacked when he revealed he was about to be declared legally blind.
James Ross, who has Stargardt disease, experienced a deterioration of his eyesight over the course of his employment at the company’s Aberdeen site. Brewdog attempted to move him to a different department, but when Ross refused he was fired.
The Scottish Herald has reported that employment judge Nick Hosie described Brewdog’s actions as “astonishing”, adding that the company had only paid “lip service” to the law when they sacked Ross last year.
However, in a statement, Brewdog claimed the decision was part of its obligation to “prioritise the safety of our team”.
Ross told the company about his sight problems when he joined the packaging team in July 2016.
The following January he informed a manager that his vision was getting worse, later providing a medical report that stated he needed more tests and would likely be declared legally blind.
He was rated as a high-risk member of staff by the company’s health and safety manager and, despite receiving advice from sight loss charity RNIB on adjustments that could be made to help, the company later decided to dismiss him.
The decision came in a meeting when Ross refused to be moved to a computing role, which he said was harder for him to do with his condition. Managers involved in his sacking were unaware they had to make adjustments for Ross under the Equality Act, the tribunal heard.
Judge Nick Hosie said the company should “feel more than discomfort at the lack of awareness evidenced of their legal obligations to consider reasonable adjustments for an employee they recognised as disabled”.
Having won his case, Ross told the Herald: “The way they dealt with my condition was really poor for a company of their size. The management just didn’t seem to have a clue how to deal with it, they just wanted to end it. They weren’t interested in making any changes, they just wanted me out.
“Brewdog try to claim they’re this top company to work for, but I took this tribunal to show what they really are.”
In a statement a Brewdog spokesperson said: “This was a really difficult situation for every member of our team involved in it, and clearly for the tribunal panel too as their decision on the outcome was split.
“We worked with James in order to find a suitable alternative role within the business where his safety would not be compromised, but James wanted to keep his packaging role.
“We ended up in a position where we had to balance James’ wishes with the best interests of the team around him, and while we regret that an agreement couldn’t be reached, we have a moral responsibility to prioritise the safety of our team.”
A spokesperson for RNIB Scotland said: “We provide advice, guidance, training and technology support to help blind and partially sighted people to retain their jobs. We were invited to recommend what changes might be made to the workplace to help Mr Ross to continue in his job.
“Many employers still assume this group would be difficult or even impossible to employ. While the employment rate of those with disabilities generally continues to increase, the rate for people with sight loss has remained at around 29 per cent, compared with 76 per cent for the general population.
“And yet much of this can be due to employer misconceptions. Most people with a visual impairment, for instance, aren’t completely blind. In many cases an employer might only need to make adjustments to the workplace environment. And where a worker might need additional aids or equipment, the costs can often be subsidised by a government scheme called Access to Work.
“We know of journalists, teachers, bankers and physicists working in Scotland with sight loss. We want to encourage employers to focus on what people are able to do, not what they can’t.”