Disability not inability

Sometimes we can be too quick to jump on what people can’t do, as opposed to what they can.  How should you act if someone has or develops a disability at work?


Disability or Fraud?

Meseret Kumulchew was a supervisor at Starbucks. As part of her job she took and recorded fridge and water temperatures. This was done at specific times of the day.  Keeping accurate fridge and water temperatures was important to good food hygiene.

Meseret had a disability.  She was dyslexic.  A fact that Starbucks were said to be aware of.  Meseret was found to have made inaccurate records.  As a result, she was was given lesser duties.  She was also said to have been accused of fraud.  An Employment Tribunal found she had been discriminated against because of her disability.


What is a disability?

In employment law terms, a disability is:

“A physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term, adverse effect on that person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities”

In plain English, it is something that:

  • Affects them physically or mentally.
  • Is not trivial or minor.
  • Has or is expected to last for 12 months.
  • Cancer, MS, HIV and AIDS are considered to be a disability as soon as they are diagnosed.

It does not matter how an employee becomes disabled.  Ask yourself, do they meet the tests above?


How to manage a disability at work

Just because your employee has a disability, it does not necessarily mean they cannot do their job.  Meseret was reported to be good with customers and staff alike.

If your employee has a disability, you need to consider making “reasonable adjustments”.  I emphasise the word “reasonable”.  Reasonable adjustments could be anything from additional equipment to helping them avoid rush hour.  For instance, could someone else have taken the readings for Starbucks?

Your employee will know what will help them most.  Speak to them about what reasonable adjustments they need.  Help is out there for you too.  Search on lines for specialist charities who offer advice.  Speak to your local Job Centre Plus.  There is also the Government’s Fit For Work Scheme who may have practical ideas.

Don’t lose a great employee for the sake of a few small changes.





Categories Discrimination, Staff Performance, Uncategorized