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Dyslexic receptionist is making dangerous errors

Advice on an employer's duty in a tricky practice situation involving a member of staff.

Advice on an employer's duty in a tricky practice situation involving a member of staff.

The situation

My receptionist has dyslexia and as a result is inaccurately recording information such as patients' names. This leads to confusion and is potentially dangerous. What can I do?

The advice

Dyslexia is specifically recognised as a disability under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995. As such all employers who have employees that suffer from dyslexia have statutory obligations towards them.

The most relevant duty is to make reasonable adjustments.

This duty requires the employer to make changes to either physical features of the premises (for example exits, fixtures, fittings etc.) or to any "provisions, criteria or practices" (such as job descriptions, tasks expected of the employee or terms of employment) so as to reduce any substantial disadvantage that the employee is suffering due to her disability.

Accuracy is likely to be of key importance for a practice receptionist, and so a receptionist with dyslexia may for instance require provision or modification of equipment (for example a colour-coded keyboard, coloured overlays for written text or voice activated software for their PC), or extra time to complete tasks.

A failure to make adjustments which are deemed reasonable will render the employer liable to compensate the employee. Reasonable adjustments must be made - there is no discretion , nor any defence for failing to do so!

Whether an adjustment is reasonable depends on a number of factors including the cost to the employer, the disruption to the business, the effect on other employees, the effectiveness of the step in preventing the disadvantage, the extent of the Practice's financial or other resources and the availability of outside help, be it financial or otherwise, to the employer.

A good starting point for such outside help might be Jobcentre Plus or the Access to Work Scheme, or any particular schemes run by local NHS bodies.

Further, national charities dealing with specific disabilities may be able to make suggestions for adjustments which will be of assistance to the employee.

The employee has no obligation to suggest to the employer what adjustments to make, but good practice and common sense dictates that the employer should ask what the employee thinks would help them in their role.

If nothing else it will show a serious and supportive attitude to the employee and hopefully make them feel that the Practice values their contribution.

If adjustments do not result in the employee being able to fulfil their role adequately then the Practice should consider redeploying the receptionist to another role.

However, if an alternative role is not available then it may be that the Practice should consider the termination of the receptionist's employment. However this step should not be taken lightly, and the appropriate procedures must be followed.

A word of caution: a recent study indicated that only 8% of employers have an effective policy in place for making reasonable adjustments. Compensation for claims for Disability Discrimination is uncapped and carries an added stigma. It is therefore vital that employers get policies in place, get them right and get them right early.

Michael Salter and Chris Bryden are barristers at 2 Gray's Inn Square Chambers: Michael Salter is also able to accept instructions directly from members of the public. Please visit for guidance how to instruct him. Legal points are provided for discussion only and are given without obligation. For specific legal advice consult your solicitor or contact Michael Salter via his website.

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