Shelter must pay £28,000 to unfairly dismissed dyslexic helpline worker

Sheffield Employment Tribunal rules that the charity also discriminated against and harassed James Bulloss

Shelter must pay more than £28,000 to a dyslexic helpline worker who was unfairly dismissed, discriminated against and harassed by the homelessness charity, an employment tribunal has ruled.

A ruling from Sheffield Employment Tribunal, published last week, said the charity was wrong to refuse a request from James Bulloss to continue answering queries via an instant-messaging platform after a trial period rather than sending him back to telephone-only work.

Bulloss worked for Shelter as an adviser from September 2014 until his resignation in October 2017.

The role initially required shiftwork to cover the phones during evenings and on Saturdays.

In May 2017, Bulloss asked if he could join a newly formed webchat team, which would provide similar advice over an instant-messaging service.

On 13 June he was informed by email that he would begin training for the new service on 3 July, and a four-week trial period commenced on 17 July.

Bulloss and the other candidates were warned that if they failed the trial period they would return to answering telephone queries only. 

His manager had concerns about Bulloss’s spelling, grammar and general writing while working on the webchat service and he was eventually told he would not be able to continue working in that team. The charity decided he would return to answering telephone queries, despite his wish to remain in the webchat team.

Bulloss was subsequently given a diagnosis of dyslexia and, after a period away from work because of anxiety, he requested a phased return to work and adjustments, both of which were granted.

But the charity refused his request to move back to the webchat team and said no adjustments had been made for him during his trial because there was no diagnosis for dyslexia at the time.

Bulloss resigned on 24 October, saying he did not believe Shelter dealt with issues affecting him "relating to discrimination appropriately, legally or with regard for my wellbeing".

The tribunal ruled that Bulloss had been unfairly dismissed, discriminated against because of his disability and harassed by his former employer. He was awarded £28,324 in loss of earnings and interest.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said it was important that the charity supported its staff and volunteers who had disabilities.

"If we ever fall short of what we expect of ourselves, it is essential that we use the learnings to improve for the future," she said.

"Having reviewed this matter and identified the areas where we could have responded differently, we have now ensured that we are doing so."

Bulloss said after the judgment was released that Shelter had shown limited to no awareness of its duties under the equality act.

He also said the charity had refused to accept any responsibility or accountability for the breaches of law in relation to his case.

One of the reasons he took the case was to raise awareness of the responsibilities of employers towards disabled staff and the potential repercussions of failing to do that, he said.

A version of this story first appeared on Third Sector’s sister title People Management

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