Dyslexia is is, especially if undiagnosed, a debilitating condition in the affect it has on the self-confidence of those with the condition. Thankfully, in children there has been a marked improvement in the identification of students with dyslexia and related conditions meaning appropriate support can be given (although, no doubt, there is still much more work to be done). However, it was not always so and that means it is an issue trade unionists need to be aware of.

What is Dyslexia?

Dyslexia is a fairly common condition learning disability the affects the ability of individuals for reading and writing and the ability of people to learn new information, when the mode of delivery is by the written or spoken word. It is estimated that around 10% of the population has some dyslexic impairment.

Dyslexia is a long term condition that affects a person’s ability to perform normal day to day activities and, therefore, may be a disability under the Equality Act 2010. Helpfully, some work related duties such as stressful assessment practices (dyslexia often manifests more in times of stress) have been found to be normal day to day activities and so easier to establish disability in work related matters (see Paterson v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis [2007] IRLR 763).

Broaching the subject

For those already in work I find that those with undiagnosed dyslexia often fall into two groups (there is a third group – probably the majority – who do not we will not encounter):

  • Those who have long suspected they may be dyslexic but have never, perhaps out of fear, confronted the issue but asks for advice as to whether they should pursue this, perhaps they find that although they do their role well their applications for promotion are never successful; or
  • Those for whom the employer has started capability proceedings, which means they are on the road to dismissal.

For the latter group especially it clearly needs a tactful conversation but they should be asked if they have ever been diagnosed or tested for dyslexia. Where the alleged poor performance relates to poorly written reports, for example, raising this question could be the difference between the member being dismissed and keeping their job. This is because the employer would need to ensure, prior to even contemplating dismissal, that all reasonable adjustments had been implemented or considered.

Dyslexia Diagnosis

Where a worker or a rep suspects an employee maybe dyslexic it is advisable to explore that matter. The British Dyslexia Association have produced a helpful checklist to help ascertain whether an adult may be dyslexic, this can be found here. This is probably a good first port of call as by taking it the probably has a good indication on whether they may have dyslexic tendencies. Needless to say this is not a formal diagnosis and should not be relied upon as such.

However, where the checklist indicates there may be an issue then I think the union rep would be well advised to formally write to the employer setting out that there is reason to believe that the member is dyslexic and, therefore, also a disabled person under the Equality Act 2010. For one thing, having received the correspondence the employer cannot claim ignorance of the possibility which will itself already provide the member some protection. This letter should also suggest that, in order to identify whether the employee is a disabled person and to advise on adjustments the employer would be well advised to pay for an independent dyslexia assessment from an expert (e.g., an educational psychologist).

If an employer will not pay for an assessment (many larger employers will) then it will be advisable for the employee to make contact with the charity Dyslexia Action who offer a formal diagnostic assessment by a consultant psychologist. Details of this diagnostic assessment process and local contacts point to secure an assessment can be found here.

If that assessment comes back confirming a diagnosis it is important that the employee inform the employer of that diagnosis and that the union believes the member will be a disabled person since it is at the point the employer has knowledge of disability that the duty to make adjustments is formally engaged. This would also be a good time for the employee to seek an Access to Work assessment which will provide recommendations on adjustments. If an employee on formal capability measures is identified as needing adjustments that have not been made it will be difficult for an employer dismiss a dyslexic employer without first implementing these and given them a chance to succeed.

Readers may also find the TUC guide on dyslexia helpful.


Cases Referenced:

Paterson v Commissioner of Police of The Metropolis [2007] IRLR 763