A dyslexic coffee shop supervisor was accused of fraud after entering the wrong information into work documents.
The Starbucks worker has now won a case for disability discrimination against Starbucks in the Employment Tribunal.
Speaking to the BBC, Ms Kumulchew said, "I am not a fraud. The name fraud itself shouldn't exist for me. It's quite serious. I nearly ended my life. But I had to think of my kids. I know I'm not a fraud. I just made a mistake."
It was found that Ms Kumulchew was not falsifying documents but rather entering the wrong information by mistake due to her dyslexia.
The Clapham branch of Starbucks was found guilty of disability discrimination by giving Meseret Kumulchew lesser duties and telling her she had to retrain.
Starbucks, as an employer, has the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for workers with a disability (whether physical or mental) in order to create a level playing field so that individuals with a disability are not at a substantial disadvantage compared to non-disabled employees.
In this case, being dyslexic meant that Ms Kumulchew was prone to making mistakes when filling out documents because she struggles with reading, writing and telling the time. She had made her employer aware of her condition. Therefore, Starbucks should have made reasonable adjustments in order to help her with the tasks she struggles with due to her dyslexia.
The reasonable adjustments could have been easily implemented. For example, Starbucks could have had someone check over her work, explain tasks to her verbally and by physically carrying out tasks with her, or simply by having the company policies written out in larger text. This would make it easier for dyslexic employees to read.
Ms Kumulchew suffered serious upset and distress, at one point considering suicide. The Equality Act 2010 protects workers in the UK from such disability discrimination at work.
If an employer knows about an employee’s disability and it puts them at a substantial disadvantage compared with people who are not disabled, then by law they should make reasonable adjustments.
If an employer does not make adjustments then an employee should raise this with their employer either on an informal basis or formally through the company’s grievance procedure. If the employer still refuses to make reasonable adjustments then the worker should seek advice from a trade union or an employment lawyer.
A failure to make adjustments could give rise to a disability discrimination claim where the employee can claim compensation for unfair treatment. However, litigation of this kind is rare. It is most often used as a last resort. Making reasonable adjustments should benefit both employers and employees by enabling the worker to do their job.