It is estimated that 10% of the population in the UK has some degree of dyslexia. It is said that 4% of the population is severely affected with common signs being difficulties with reading, writing and spelling. There is a great deal more about the condition of Dyslexia which makes it a condition that employers should be aware of in order that they do not lose good employees, assign work inefficiently or at worst end up in a dispute or litigation.
Dyslexia – a lifelong condition
Dyslexia is a lifelong condition believed to be inherited and affects people regardless of race, background and age. It is complicated because it varies so much from person to person but is often found with other conditions relating to processing language, information, and numbers. Highly intelligent and high achievers within virtually every profession are found with the condition, often having developed individual coping mechanisms to overcome the disadvantages it brings.
In employment, the first major judgment in relation to dyslexia being a disability occurred in the case of Mr D Paterson v the Commissioner of the Metropolitan police in 2007. In this case, a tribunal’s ruling that dyslexia only had minor effects on a chief inspector within the police service was found to be incorrect at a higher appeal tribunal.
In that case, the chief inspector felt that the force should make reasonable adjustments to the process to enable him to overcome the disadvantages that he suffered as a result of being dyslexic when taking promotion exams. Expert evidence identified that the claimant had significant weaknesses in phonological processing and silent reading, short-term auditory working memory and speed of information processing and organisation. This was most evident in high-pressure examination situations. It was clear from that case that the chief inspector was able to carry out report writing and financial and budgetary duties with little impairment.
The Equality Act 2010
The Equality Act 2010 provides that a disability is where a person has a mental or physical condition which impacts adversely on his ability to carry out day-to-day activities. The adverse impact must be substantial rather than trivial and have lasted (or could last) at least 12 months.
A case in 2018, this time involving the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police and a police community support officer, Mr Toy focused on whether the employer was required to have knowledge of the disability in order to discriminate.
Clearly, where an employer does not know an employee is dyslexic, any adverse conduct cannot be said to have been caused by any discriminatory motivation.
In this case the claimant had not notified his employer of their condition, it had never been diagnosed and his performance failings whilst in his probation were so significant that they appeared to be beyond the range of those that were most likely to be affected by dyslexia. The lack of a medical diagnosis or any other expert finding was a significant hurdle for the claimant to clear. Similarly, the fact that he had not brought it to the notice of his employer or any of his supervisors when he was having difficulties was also a significant problem for him. The issue of whether his failings could be due to dyslexia arose from a chance remark in a hearing considering his future and was pursued by the Claimant.
An Employer’s duty
Where an employee is diagnosed with dyslexia and the employer knows that they suffer with dyslexia, a duty would be triggered on the employer to make reasonable adjustments in order to remove any disadvantage faced by the employee. Examples may include specialist software to assist with word processing in day-to-day computer use, extra time for completing tasks, proof reading support, using technology to assist with reading or processing numbers, reassigning duties which are directly affected by the condition and provision of quiet spaces for focus on complex tasks. Acas also provides useful examples of reasonable adjustments and how they can be incorporated into the workplace.
Discussions should take place with the employee to ensure that they are engaged in dialogue about the impact of their condition and the solutions to the disadvantages they face.
Such discussions may be ongoing as the understanding of the condition and the workplace evolves. It is worth considering that often, reasonable adjustments will need incorporating not only during the role, but also the early recruitment stages. For example, if a prospective employee opts to disclose their disability in their application, candidates may require interview questions in advance, quiet spaces or additional time to complete Assessment Centre tasks. Employers should also be considerate of their recruitment approaches and whether they are providing the best opportunities for candidates to display their true skillset. Reports have shown that psychometric testing is considered an unnecessary barrier for candidates whose strengths may lie elsewhere.
By employers securing accessibility to reasonable adjustments at recruitment stages, this protects suitable candidates who could excel in the role, by providing an environment where they are not disadvantaged or slipping through the net during the recruitment stages. Rather, accommodating these needs reflects a clear commitment and awareness of such requirements and fosters a culture of understanding and openness.
There are various consultants and medical bodies as well as dyslexia help groups who can also advise on adjustments and strategies to assist the employer and the employee. It is quite clear that doing nothing is ill-advised.
Bearing in mind that a disability is a protected characteristic which is actionable under the Equality Act 2010, employers should ensure that there is no adverse treatment in relation to employees’ dyslexia by colleagues which could amount to harassment. Where an employer is considering performance management or disciplinary processes in respect of an employee with dyslexia, legal advice should always be sought.
In summary, employers should recognise there are various mechanisms and opportunities to support both prospective candidates and employees impacted by dyslexia. By taking proactive steps to support these individuals, this promotes a supportive workplace environment and sufficient awareness of the different needs of individuals across the workforce.
If you wish to discuss anything raised in this article, please contact our Employment team who will be happy to help.