HR Worried A Dyslexic Would Fail, So She Was Fired

Do you know that proverb “no good deed goes unpunished”?

This isn’t that situation.

“There was no point in continuing the training.”

Last week, the EEOC announced that it was suing an employer for disability discrimination after it fired an employee with dyslexia because the company wanted to spare the employee the shame of failure.

Here’s more from the press release:

According to the suit, [the employer] hired an individual for a telemarketer position at its Laurel, Md., headquarters. The employee began a three-day training program, which included reading a script. The trainer expressed concerns about the employee’s ability to read the script and asked if she had a learning disability. In response, the employee disclosed to the director of training and director of human resources that she had dyslexia. The EEOC says the director of human resources told the employee [the employer] “[did not] want to set [her] up for failure” and that there was no point in continuing the training. The employee asked if she would be able to take the script home to practice it. [The employer] refused her request for a reasonable accommodation and instead fired her, EEOC charges.

Now, remember, that these are just EEOC allegations from a complaint that it filed against this employer. There are two sides to every story, and the employer will have its chance to explain its side. However, assuming the truth the EEOC allegations, there are several issues here.

Not the least of which is why is a trainer asking an employee if she has a disability, as opposed to something more agnostic such as saying, “How can we help you?”

What could the employer have done instead?

But, what stands out is how quickly the employer gave up and gave in to the stereotype of a dyslexic employee being unable to read well. Here’s more from the press release:

“Employers should explore reasonable accommodation options instead of rushing to terminate an employee. We encourage employers responding to accommodation requests to review the many free resources and guidance on reasonable accommodations the EEOC provides on its website, www.eeoc.gov, as well as resources provided by other organizations such as the Job Accommodation Network at https://askjan.org.”

I second the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) as an excellent resource for employers to explore when it comes to accommodating employees with disabilities. For example, I searched for “dyslexia” and found this resource on how certain fonts are “highly effective in improving reading skills for many people with dyslexia by helping to better differentiate between letters, aiding in the reading process.”

That sounds like something that could have helped here. That and, allowing the employee to take the script home at night to practice it.

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Additional tips for employers

Let’s say that an employee identifies that she has a disability and proposes an accommodation that sounds reasonable and won’t cost much, if anything; e.g., taking a telemarketer script home at night to practice. Your response should be, “Yes.”

If that works, super! If it doesn’t, then you’re free to explore other options. But, if you don’t, you may have someone who isn’t qualified to perform the essential functions of the job — even with her first choice of accommodation. Thus, if you separated her employment, you’d have a strong defense to a disability discrimination claim.

This article is reposted from The Employer Handbook.