Dyslexia tribunal sparks discussion on how to support neurodivergent employees

The British Dyslexia Association estimates between 10% to 15% of the UK population has either dyslexia or another learning difficulty.

The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term negative effect on a person’s ability to do normal daily activities. Employers must make reasonable adjustments for employees with disabilities at all stages of their employment.

Employers need to be mindful that a wide range of conditions may amount to a disability, from depression and menopause to neurodivergent conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia.

The existence or extent of such conditions is not always immediately obvious and managers too often fail to understand that neurodivergence may amount to a disability.

A recent decision of the employment tribunal shows the impact that dyslexia can have on an individual’s working life.

The case of Jandu vs Marks & Spencer discussed how employers should support those affected through all stages of the employment process, up to and including potential redundancy.

While the case is not binding on other tribunals, it nevertheless provides useful guidance for employers managing disability in the workplace.

Rita Jandu worked for Marks & Spencer for seven years from 2013 to 2020 as a layout planner, until she was made redundant in October 2020.

Having been diagnosed with dyslexia in 2009, Jandu had difficulties with spelling, sentence structure and overall comprehension. This meant she would find it difficult to take notes at work.

The tribunal heard that her work emails were often bullet pointed to limit her need to manage paragraph construction.

Jandu was open with her managers regarding her dyslexia, requesting colour-coding of important parts of long emails, which she struggled to read.

She also asked for help proofreading any emails she would send to wider teams. Previous managers supported her with these adjustments.

Having been considered for redundancy as a result of a scoring matrix process, Jandu raised her dyslexia at a consultation, and was told that her “communications appear rushed and not thought through”, but she was also told that the meeting was “not about your dyslexia”.

Jandu appealed her dismissal for redundancy on the basis that the communications issue had not been raised previously. Her workplace appeal was dismissed on the basis that dyslexia had “nothing to do” with the redundancy.

The tribunal considered Jandu’s claims for discrimination and unfair dismissal, and noted how her employer dismissed her claims rather than asking for more information on her disability, its effect, and how reasonable adjustments could have been introduced for Jandu in the redundancy process as well as in her general employment. The tribunal found in her favour and she was awarded over £50,000.

The case raises significant issues which employers should consider when managing neurodivergence in the workplace. If a disability issue is raised during a redundancy process, it may be best to seek further support and input from professionals.

Marks & Spencer’s assertion that dyslexia had “not been a factor” in the redundancy decision did not absolve them of their obligation to make reasonable adjustments. All employers have a clear duty to make reasonable adjustments in terms of disability.

Employers’ policies around disability, illness and performance management should incorporate an understanding that neurodivergence and learning difficulties can amount to disabilities. Managers should be trained in identifying, supporting and making reasonable accommodations to support neurodivergent staff. In recent decades, the British education system has learned to truly understand, value and support neurodivergence. Now, British workplaces need to follow suit.

Published in HR Magazine – 18.01.23