In a recent employment tribunal case, the employee was employed by a housing charity, initially to provide telephone advice. The charity later introduced web chat legal advice and the employee expressed a preference for this work instead of continuing with telephone advice work. All employees selected for the web chat legal advice work were given a four-week trial in the role.
On reviewing the chats produced by the employee, the line manager noticed that there were often spelling and grammatical errors and that the employee had been free typing rather than using the appropriate shortcuts, which were an online library of pre-prepared paragraphs giving advice on a range of topics. She also observed what she thought were unnecessary and prolonged sentences. However, there were no issues with the quality of the advice he had given to clients.
Although no client complaints were received, the employer was concerned about the charity’s reputation due to the spelling and grammatical errors and removed him from the web chat legal advice work, back to undertaking telephone advice work only.
The employee later received a diagnosis of dyslexia, which he disclosed to his employer. The employee believed that he would be able to do the web chat work once adjustments had been made for his dyslexia. However, his employer’s decision to move him back to telephone advice only work remained unchanged and adjustments were not considered.
The employee resigned and claimed constructive unfair dismissal, failure to make reasonable adjustments, disability discrimination and victimisation.
The tribunal ruled that a disabled employee wishing to undertake web chat work should not be denied reasonable adjustments and instead be moved to telephone-only work. Whilst the employer had discretion to deploy its staff to the type of advice work it saw fit, the tribunal found that the employer had sought to avoid its statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments by simply returning the employee to telephone advice work without applying reasonable adjustments to the web chat work to enable the employee to undertake this work.
Based on the facts, the tribunal found that the employee had been unfairly dismissed and discriminated against due to his disability. The employee was awarded £28,324 by the tribunal.
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Where an employee makes their employer aware, or it otherwise becomes clear to the employer that an employee is facing disadvantages due to a long-term and substantial physical or mental impairment, this automatically triggers the duty to make workplace adjustments that are deemed reasonable and have the effect of removing the disadvantages. An employer discriminates against a disabled employee if it fails to comply with the statutory duty to make reasonable adjustments.