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Wake-up call: Don't discriminate against staff with dyslexia

08 March 2016
Wake-up call: Don't discriminate against staff with dyslexia

An employee with the condition may require extra help or alternative arrangements depending on their abilities, says Victoria Duddles

The problem

How does the recent case, which saw Starbucks lose a dyslexia discrimination claim from an employee, affect me? I run a catering company and have a large workforce of seasonal staff. How do I ensure I am providing sufficient support to employees with dyslexia?

The law

Dyslexia can amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010, depending on the degree to which the condition affects the individual. Under that act it is unlawful to discriminate against a disabled employee by:

  • Treating the employee less favourably because of a disability (direct discrimination);
  • Applying a provision, criterion or practice (PCP) which disadvantages the disabled employee and others who share that disability and the PCP cannot be justified (indirect discrimination);
  • Treating the employee unfavourably because of something arising in consequence of the disability where the employer cannot show that the treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim (disability-connected discrimination);
  • Failing to make a reasonable adjustment where the employee is placed at a substantial disadvantage by a PCP, a physical feature of the premise, or the lack of an auxiliary aid;
  • Harassment where the disabled employee is subjected to unwanted conduct related to the disability, and which has the purpose or effect of violating that employee's dignity or creating an intimidating, hostile, degrading, humiliating or offensive environment.

Expert advice

If you know you have employees who have dyslexia, it is advisable that you meet with those employees to understand how the condition can affect his or her ability to do their job or any arrangements to carry out their job.

For example, dyslexia may not affect a person's ability to their job, but it may make it more difficult to read and understand company policies, or to absorb and retain information during the induction process.

You should therefore look at supporting the employee by making reasonable adjustments to overcome the disadvantage. This might be to provide the rules and procedures in a different format, or supplying a recording device to back-up note-taking during an induction.

Alternatively, the dyslexia may affect the employee's ability to do their job. For example, in the Starbucks case, the issue was that the individual made mistakes due to her difficulty with reading and writing. In the catering industry, this may be a big concern in terms of the accuracy of the employee's form-filling, which is required for health and safety reasons. In such situations, you should consider what reasonable adjustments can be implemented to overcome the disadvantage. This might be achieved by someone else completing the forms, or by providing a specialist word processing package to support the employee.

Where there is a particular issue, first speak to the employee. If they don't have any suggestions as to how the disadvantage can be overcome, seek advice from a specialist, who may be able to recommend available funding.

To-do checklist

  • Do meet with the employee to better understand the impact dyslexia may have, whether that is in terms of training, ability to understand the company communications or the job itself.
  • Do consider whether dyslexia puts the employee at a substantial disadvantage and speak with the employee as to how this could be overcome.
  • Don't give up if no solution is identified, but do obtain further advice as to the impact of the dyslexia on the employee's work or in terms of what adjustments might be available. This may be via specialist medical advice or organisations such as the British Dyslexia Association.


There is no limit to the compensation that may be awarded to an employee who has been discriminated in the workplace.


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