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Dyslexic employee wins tribunal after bosses mocked writing

Employers are urged to offer a workplace needs assessment to employees with dyslexia

A former charity employee who has dyslexia was discriminated against and unfairly dismissed, a tribunal has judged.

Robert Debont was hired as facilities manager at community charity Marsh Farm Futures in Luton in 2015.

In March 2021, the charity’s chief executive, Mohammed Rafi, humiliated Debont in a board meeting, the tribunal heard, saying that policy proposals he had written were illegible.

Read more: Dyslexia tribunal sparks discussion on how to support neurodivergent employees

Rafi then sent further criticism in an email, stating: “In all your policies there are mistakes and they are incoherent... your last set of policy documents in the health and safety statement that you wanted me to send to the board for the March 2021 board meeting was reviewed by me and contained many mistakes and were disjointed and confusing.

“Staff have not agreed to work and sign up to policies that are badly written and are jumbled and confusing, otherwise they feel they would be signing up to policies that they do not understand which they cannot be asked to work to.”

Claire Brook, employment law partner at Aaron & Partners, said the tribunal found this criticism far too harsh considering the mistakes stemmed from Debont’s dyslexia.

She told HR magazine: “The claimant’s dyslexia impacted on his ability to produce written work. Reasonable adjustments were in place such as proofreading and provision of dictation software. 

“However, it was held that the claimant was subject to discrimination including the level of criticism he faced in a board meeting in connection with his written work, which also amounted to unlawful harassment.”

Debont was pulled into a meeting and informed he was at risk of redundancy, before being sent home and locked out of all company systems, including his email account.

This then became a disciplinary process regarding a complaint of inappropriate behaviour from Debont.

Debont was accidentally sent a recommendation from a consultant that he should be dismissed, and later directly told that he had been fired.

His claims for unfair dismissal succeeded, plus part of his claim for disability discrimination and harassment.

Compensation will be decided at a later date.

Read more: AI could help dyslexic workers progress

Brook said: “The redundancy was held to be a sham in order to bring about the removal of the employee. The conversion of the redundancy into a disciplinary process was considered suspicious in the extreme.

“The manner in which the claimant was sent home, and the process followed was the subject of scrutiny and the judgement highlights important lessons for employers handling formal processes fairly and reasonably.”  

Matt Boyd, founder of neurodiversity consultancy Exceptional Individuals, told HR magazine that employers should offer a workplace needs assessment to employees with dyslexia.

He said: “An assessment identifies what reasonable adjustments individuals should have. But, generally, with dyslexia, reasonable adjustments can be anything from workplace mentoring to coaching and considering the implementation of assisted technologies.

“That technology can be text-to-speech and speech-to-text programs, spell-checkers that are so much more advanced, which actually learn your mistakes, dictaphones, mind-mapping tools and software. All of these things really help to mitigate these challenges for people with dyslexia."