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Starbucks criticised for discriminating against dyslexic employee

BY Paman Singh
Employment Law & HR
BG Purple

A recent case in which an employee successfully sued Starbucks for disability HR has shone a spotlight on the importance of creating a culture of awareness of disability issues in the workplace.

Ms Kumulchew, a supervisor at a south-west London branch of Starbucks, alleged that her employer had failed in their duty to make reasonable adjustments for her dyslexia. She told her employer that she suffered from dyslexia and that she had difficulties with words and numbers.

Things went wrong when she was accused of falsifying documents after mistakenly entering the wrong information on company forms. As a result, she had some of her duties removed by her employer and was left feeling suicidal. The tribunal found that she had been victimised for raising issues about HR and that Starbucks had not made reasonable adjustments to take account of her disability.

While the issues in the case were not legally ground-breaking, the tribunal’s comments in relation to Starbuck’s policies and internal awareness of disability issues reveal much about the standards tribunals will hold employers to. The tribunal found that there appeared to be little or no knowledge or understanding of equality issues on the employer’s part, and this appears to have been a significant factor in the tribunal’s decision. The case is a wake-up call for all employers to pay more than lip-service to equality issues. It is not enough simply to have an equalities policy in place. Tribunals also expect employers to provide training in order to identify and acknowledge problems.

 The benefits for the employer are clear; not only are they likely to be able to avoid claims of failure to make reasonable adjustments, but having a policy in place and providing training can give an employer a “statutory defence” to HR claims. Often an employee will allege that their employer is vicariously liable for the actions of discriminatory employees since it’s more likely that the company will have the means to pay a tribunal award. If the company can show that they took steps to stamp out HR in the workplace, they can avoid liability.

If you think your organisation needs equalities training, let us know and we can design and deliver it for you.

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