An Employment Tribunal has ruled that a dyslexic helpline worker was unfairly dismissed after his employer refused to allow him to move to a role answering queries via a new webchat platform, in Mr J Bulloss v Shelter, The National Campaign for Homeless People Ltd.
James Bulloss worked as an adviser for the charity Shelter, initially as a telephone adviser. Bulloss asked if he could join the charity’s new webchat service team, in a role providing similar advice over an instant messaging service.
During the trial period, in which the candidates were warned that if they failed they would return to the telephone service, his manager raised concerns over a series of spelling and grammatical errors. Bulloss was then reassigned roles and moved back from webchat service to telephone work. At the time, Bulloss was not diagnosed as dyslexic, but later informed his employer that he suspected he was dyslexic.
During a following period of leave, Bulloss was diagnosed with dyslexia. Upon informing Shelter of his diagnosis, Bulloss was told that no adjustments were made because there was no diagnosis for dyslexia at the time of the event. In addition, his request to move back to webchat was not something Shelter would consider, with the charity considering reasonable adjustments unnecessary as his dyslexia did not affect his ability to perform effectively on the telephone.
Bulloss brought claims of disability discrimination, failure to make reasonable adjustments, victimisation and unfair dismissal against the charity.
The Tribunal found that just because Bulloss’s job description included answering queries via both webchat and telephone, it should not mean a disabled employee wishing to undertake webchat work should be denied reasonable adjustments and instead be moved to work via telephone only.
Shelter had failed to make reasonable adjustments and Bulloss had therefore been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against due to his disability, and harassed by his former employer. Bulloss was awarded £28,324. The judge also noted Bulloss’ desire to improve his career prospects and to benefit from improving his skills and experience in webchat advice.
The case serves as a reminder of employers’ duty to make reasonable adjustments if an employee has made their manager aware of disadvantages faced due to a physical or mental impairment. This applies even if an employee does not have a medical diagnosis.
The ruling also notes that if an employee is struggling with one element of their job due to a disability, the employer cannot simply not require them to not undertake that aspect of their role in order to avoid implementing reasonable adjustments.