This page, aimed at both people who stammer and employers, gives examples of possible reasonable adjustments for people who stammer once employed. There is a separate page of recruitment examples, including promotion.
What follows are just possible examples of reasonable adjustments. (Further suggestions are welcome – firstname.lastname@example.org.) What is appropriate and reasonable will depend on the circumstances, and different people who stammer have different needs. It will normally be a good idea for the employer and the person who stammers to discuss what is appropriate.
Note that even for a continuing non-deliberate failure to make adjustments there is a cut-off point for making a claim.
The BSA website includes tips for using the phone at work. Scroll down to ‘Using the phone’ on Stammering at work (stamma.org). See also my Telephone page which brings together Equality Act issues to do with the phone.
Telephone: Open plan offices
Some people who stammer find it particularly difficult speaking on the phone if work colleagues can overhear. Various adjustments may help with this, including being able to use a separate office. See Open plan offices below.
Telephone: Reallocating duties
Answering the telephone – and possibly speaking on the phone generally – might be done by someone else if a person who stammers finds it a significant problem and does not wish to do it.
Presumably this is more likely to be reasonable if answering the phone is only a minor or subsidiary duty. However, even if it is more than a minor part of the job, a re-allocation of duties may still be a reasonable adjustment. The question is whether it is a reasonable step for the employer to have to take in the circumstances. (For example, in Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police v Jelic, 2010, a job swap was held to be reasonable on the facts.)
One thing that will often be practicable is for others in the office to answer the phone whenever possible, with only calls specifically for the person who stammers then being put through to him or her.
A deaf person has successfully argued that job tasks should have been rearranged so that he did not have to answer the phone, where the adjustment could have been done without any great expense or inconvenience on the part of the employer – see Victory for deaf man in landmark judgement (link to equality-ne.co.uk), August 2002.
One possible rellocation suggested by the BSA website (Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org)) is swapping phone work for emails.
Telephone: Set phrases or script
Where the job involves saying set phrases or following a set script, such as in a call centre or when first answering the phone, these could be modified to make them easier for the person to say.
Telephone: Modifying a target
Modifying a target may be reasonable. For example, a call centre might modify a target of how many calls a person should get through in a particular time, or of how long a call is expected to last. One call centre modified the expected length of a call for a staff member who stammered.
Telephone: Own phone
One person who stammers was given their own phone. They previously shared a phone, and had difficulty answering it when it could be any one of several people in the office that the caller wanted to speak to.
Telephone: Phone calls without speaking
There are also textphones and other ways of having a phone call without speaking – see Jobseekers allowance>Using textphone facilities.
Telephone: Email, and storage limit
If a person who stammers has problems speaking on the phone, it may be feasible to make more use of alternative means of communication, such as email or writing. Where a firm places a limit on how many emails an employee is allowed to store, it may well be reasonable to increase the individual’s email storage limit.
Telephone: Emailing beforehand
One technique that can be helpful for someone who has difficulty on the phone is emailing the other person beforehand to set out the information, and perhaps issues to discuss, that they would otherwise have to communicate in the phone call, and saying they will phone to discuss. Then when the other person has had a chance to read it, they can phone the other person to discuss it orally.
Telephone: Face-to-face alternative
Many people who stammer tend to find it easier to communicate face-to-face than on the telephone. It may therefore be reasonable for something to be done face-to-face rather than by phone. This could apply to many different speaking situations at work, but a tribunal case illustrating the adjustment (in the context of a deaf employee) happens to relate to an internal staff discussion:
Cottrell v North Tyneside Disability Forum, Employment Tribunal, March 2010, ET/2506378/08.
An employer was held in breach of the reasonable adjustment duty where it failed to agree a meeting with a deaf employee who wanted to express concerns. She could not simply pick up the phone to say what was wrong, and needed a professionally trained lipspeaker. .
Telephone: Not having to phone in sick
When off sick: allowing the person to notify their absence by email or perhaps text, rather than requiring them to telephone. Indeed the person may find speech particularly difficult when they are ill.
Telephone: Not advertising phone number
One person with a fairly severe stammer who works for a Council appears on their website as one of the contacts for his department. However only his email, fax number, and postal address are given there, no phone number. For other contacts a phone number is given as well. (2010)
Presumably this has been done at the request of, or at least with the agreement of, the person who stammers.
Telephone: Private phone calls to support speech
It may well be reasonable for an employer who normally does not allow private phone calls to allow them to a person who stammers in order to help their speech. The person who stammers might be allowed to phone a friend, for example, or the BSA helpline (stamma.org) in order to ‘limber up’ their speech before a work phone call or meeting. Or the employee may find it helpful to phone up one or more people to practise their speech technique in advance of a work situation. This might be a friend, or it might be a ‘buddy’, ‘coach’ or fellow participant on a course they have been on such as City Lit, the McGuire Programme or Starfish Project.
Telephone: Electronic fluency device
An electronic fluency device (DAF/FAF/masking) may help a person speak more fluently on the phone. See below Fluency device. Some are designed specifically to link with a phone.
Open plan offices
Apart from the more general telephone adjustments above, some people who stammer find it particularly difficult speaking on the phone if work colleagues can overhear. Addressing this may mean the person is less likely to avoid phone calls, may stammer less, and may be better able to focus on the phone conversation rather than worrying what others are thinking. Ideas that may help include:
Open plan offices: Separate room for phone calls
Making available a room for telephone calls, so that a person who stammers can be alone when on the telephone. If facilities for this are limited, the person who stammers might be allowed to use the boss’s office if s/he is out.
Open plan offices: More isolated part of office
The person who stammers might be given a relatively isolated part of an open plan office, such as a corner (if he or she wants that). One reason this may help is that fewer colleagues can hear him on the phone.
Another person who stammers found it a problem sometimes to have noises etc behind him. He asked to be moved to a desk with a wall behind, as he felt that would benefit him whilst talking on the telephone.
There may also be potential disadvantages to be considered with this type of position: see If your desk is moved into the corner, you’re in trouble, my friend (archive of Evening Standard, 12/7/10, on web.archive.org)
A related case on hot-desking (below) is Roberts v North West Ambulance Service (2012). There the employee had social anxiety order and wanted to sit in a less prominent location. The practical difficulties which arose in that case should not be relevant where people keep to the same desk.
Open plan offices: Phone calls in quieter time
There may be a quieter time of day when the person would find it easier to make phone calls.
Open plan offices: Hot desking
Where hot desking is used, so that people can sit anywhere in the office, the person who stammers may find it helpful to be able to stick to a particular chair/desk that they are familiar with, so far as possible. A case which considered hot-desking as a possible reasonable adjustment is Roberts v North West Ambulance Service (2012).
Open plan offices: Own office
Naturally an adjustment of being given one’s own office may be helpful in making phone calls, as discussed above. Also for some people who stammer an open plan office may trigger social anxiety. For an example of this, see case study of being given own small office.
In one court case, which related to a voice impairment other than stammering, the claimant had objected to the adverse effect on her voice of increased noise from a partition being taken down between her office and the stock control room. The case was settled out of court after the claimant won an appeal on the issue of her being disabled. See £125,000 for Woman In Settlement Of Landmark Discrimination Case (link to equalityni.org). My page on the case is SCA Packaging v Boyle.
Meetings, including video conferences
The BSA website includes tips for meetings. Scroll down to Meetings & video conferences on Stammering at work (stamma.org).
Meetings: Discuss adjustments in advance
It is often a good idea for the chair of the meeting to ask the person who stammers in advance what would help them.
Meetings: Introducing oneself
Saying one’s name when people go round the table introducing themselves can be a particular problem for someone who stammers. It is best for the chair to discuss with the person in advance how to handle this.
The person who stammers might go first – so they have less time to build up anxiety.
The chair might introduce everyone, rather than participants doing it individually.
The person who stammers might (if happy to do this) ask a colleague to introduce them.
Name badges may avoid people having to introduce themselves – but these are not sufficient if visually impaired people are present.
Meetings: Difficulty getting into a discussion
A person who stammers may find it difficult to break in and speak at meetings. Again it is a good idea for the chair to discuss in advance with the person who stammers what would help. Examples are:
An agreed signal might be used to let the chair know that the employee wants say something. It is best not to leave the employee waiting, but to allow them to make their point as quickly as possible without artificially interrupting the flow of discussion.
The chair might agree with the person who stammers a system applicable to everyone for contributing to a meeting, eg by raising a hand.
Suggested by BSA at Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
The person who stammers could be asked what his views are. See example in Telling your managing director about stammering (link to archive of BSA website) – 2nd paragraph from end.
It could be agreed in advance with the employee at what point they may want to come into a discussion.
It may be reasonable for the chair to accommodate contributions to discussions that may be given at slightly inappropriate times or that interrupt the flow of discussion. The employee who stammers may have been trying for some time make the contribution.
For several of these points I am indebted to Working with students who stammer (pdf on archive of De Montfort University website), about how lecturers can support students who stammer.
Meetings: Distributing written material
One person who stammers writes that he has had positive experiences with using the following adjustment:
“Typically meetings are pre-arranged events, with agendas and responsible officers for items. For these situations I typically prepare written notes on my items which are emailed to attendees prior to the date. For example, last week I pre-prepared a ‘discussion paper’ on a topic, with background information and specific decisions to be made. This enabled a large amount of information to be made available in writing, including specific questions to address, which otherwise may have proven very difficult to deliver orally – simply by making a minor adjustment to arrangements.” (February 2009) Some speech might be needed in addition but, even if it is, the adjustment can substantially cut down the amount that needs to be communicated orally.
Meetings: Extra time
The person who stammers may need additional time to talk in meetings.
Also extra time may need to be allowed for meetings.
Meetings: Avoiding back-to-back meetings
If the person who stammers would find it helpful, it may be reasonable to avoid back-to-back meetings which can cause over-tiredness. Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
Meetings: Using chat functions
On a conference call, the person might ask questions or make comments using chat functions: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
Meetings: Permission to be quiet
A possible alternative, if the person who stammers really does not want to contribute in the meeting, is allowing permission to be quiet in meetings and to contribute via email following a meeting if appropriate: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
Presentations (in the job)
The British Stammering Association website includes tips on giving presentations. Scroll down to Giving presentations on Stammering at work (stamma.org).
Support and preparation
The employer might ensure that the person who stammers has the support and preparation he needs to feel confident in the material.
The British Stammering Association website suggests an option to practise presentations in front of small group: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
Help from colleague(s)
A person who stammers designed and ran a training session, and a colleague helped with the speaking under her direction. Feedback was very positive. See ‘The reluctant campaigner’ (archive of BSA website), Summer 2006
The British Stammering Association website suggests an option to present with a colleague or in a group: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
The presenter might put much of the information on Powerpoint slides so that pressure is taken off communicating the information orally. This may make speech easier. To this end, information on the Powerpoint slides might be fuller than normal.
Distributing material in advance
See also above: Distributing written material, as regards the possibility of distributing material in advance.
Text-to-speech technology can be used (and could be combined with Powerpoint). TTS software and its possible use by a person who stammers for workplace presentations was considered by the tribunal to some extent in Y v Bradford Council. See also Examples of reasonable adjustments: Recruitment>Use of technology.
Where some oral interaction is required, options to reduce the need to speak (as described above) could still be used as far as possible, eg to get the main information and issues over, and could be followed by oral discussion if required. (The EAT has commented that writing, as opposed to oral communication, is not necessarily sufficient to persuade and influence people – see HM Land Registry v Wakefield. Each case will depend on the facts.)
Toastmasters, the Association of Speakers Clubs, or a local stammering self-help group may help people who stammer (and anyone) become more comfortable and skilled in making presentations. On the BSA website scroll down to Giving presentations on Stammering at work (stamma.org).
Not being forced to give training or lead sessions
Not being forced to give training or lead sessions is suggested on the British Stammering Association website: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
This assumes the person who stammers does not want to do it. Depriving someone of opportunities without justification could be unlawful discrimination.
Possible adjustments to presentations – albeit in a higher education context – are discussed in Working with students who stammer (pdf on archive of De Montfort University website).
Also see my separate page on Presentations in recruitment.
Possible adjustments to seminars and presentations are discussed on Oral exams and assessed presentations and in Working with students who stammer (pdf on archive of De Montfort University website).
Examples of adjustments made by the employer in A v Walkers Snack Foods were:
– Someone who stammers not being required to read aloud, if he does not wish to. Where appropriate someone else might do the reading.
– Being allowed not to take part in a role play, again if he does not wish to.
In Walkers the employee argued that he should not have been required to give comments on issues arising from the role play. This could be another reasonable adjustment. However, on the facts of that case the tribunal found there was no discrimination (see heading ‘Role play’ in my summary of the judgment).
Of course, the employer may also wish to build the person’s self-confidence as part of his or her professional and personal development.
Where the course practises what must be done in the job itself, an adjustment may perhaps not be reasonable except so far as it would be reasonable to make it on the job itself. Even here though, there is the issue of how best to train the person for the job role in the light of the stammer – there may be adjustments which would be helpful initially which could later fall away. It might be appropriate for a person who stammers to practise something one to one, or in a small group of people he is comfortable with, rather than in front of a larger group.
Speech therapy and self-help
See separate page on Reasonable adjustments: Speech therapy and self-help for issues such as
- time off for therapy, courses, or self-help meetings
- employers paying for a course or other event
- excessive sick leave, and ‘disability leave’.
Training or mentoring
The Employment Code para 6.33 gives as an example of a possible reasonable adjustment:
“Giving, or arranging for, training or mentoring (whether for the disabled person or any other worker).”
The employee might be sent on a training course in, say, communication skills or telephone skills. Providers of training courses specifically aimed at those who stammer include City Lit (link to stamma.org). See also above Speech therapy and self-help.
Arranging appropriate mentoring to support the employee is another possibility. The British Stammering Association website (Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org)) suggests:
‘Mentor or senior champion to check in with and reverse mentor.’
The pdf attached to that page explains that this could include feeding back to the mentor on the firm’s communication culture. Feedback can support the business in its aim of being an inclusive employer, by giving it insight into what its communication culture is like for someone with a disability such as a stammer.
Some employers, including the Civil Service, have stammering networks which could facilitate mentoring: Professional networks (stamma.org).
‘Non-speaking days’, or flexible/home working
British Stammering Association, at Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org), suggests
- option to work flexibly and from home when speech is difficult
- option to have ‘non-speaking days’, where interaction is predominantly via email or online tools.
Allocating some duties to another person
See above the example of re-allocating phone calls.
“Allocating some of the disabled person’s duties to another worker” is given in the Employment Code para 6.33 as a possible example of a reasonable adjustment. There are examples of reallocating duties in para 6.33 and para 17.87.
An employer reallocates minor or subsidiary duties to another worker as a disabled worker has difficulty doing them because of his disability. For example, the job involves occasionally going onto the open roof of a building but the employer transfers this work away from a worker whose disability involves severe vertigo. Employment Code, para 6.33
The duties re-allocated need not necessarily be minor or subsidiary – the test is whether, in the circumstances, the re-allocation is a reasonable step to have to take (Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police v Jelic (2010)). Reallocation of duties may, depending their magnitude, shade into Transfer to another job.
Transfer to another job
This could be relevant if, for example, a person’s stammer become more severe or the oral demands of a job increase.
An employer should consider whether a suitable alternative post is available for a worker who becomes disabled (or whose disability worsens), where no reasonable adjustment would enable the worker to continue doing the current job. Such a post might also involve retraining or other reasonable adjustments such as equipment for the new post or transfer to a position on a higher grade. Employment Code, para 6.33
The House of Lords has confirmed that transfer to another job can be a reasonable adjustment:
Archibald v Fife Council, 2004, House of Lords
The House of Lords confirmed that transfer to another job might be required as a reasonable adjustment. It said that the obligation on the employer could include (if reasonable) waiving a requirement for competitive interviews where the employer normally required these, such as where the transfer would be to a higher grade job. Also a transfer could be upwards, as well as sideways or downwards.
Wade v Sheffield Hallam University (link to bailii.org) 2013, Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT)
The claimant’s post was deleted on a reorganisation. The EAT rejected her claim that it was a breach of the reasonable adjustment duty for her employer to require her to through a competitive interview process, rather than automatically appoint her to the new role. On the facts of this case there was no breach because the claimant could not meet the essential criteria necessary for the role.
Reasonable adjustments on redeployment of a person whose mental impairment included stuttering were considered in Heatherwood & Wrexham Park Hospitals Trust v Beer (June 2006).
A disabled person may be ‘competing’ with other staff requiring redeployment, and the tribunal will consider whether adequate priority has been given to redeploying the disabled person:
Kent County Council v Mingo (link to thompsons.law.co.uk)  Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT)
The claimant was unable to continue in his role after he injured his back. Under the Council’s redeployment policy, staff who were redundant or potentially redundant (category A staff) were given priority over those requiring redeployment due to incapbility/ill health (category B staff). This resulted in the claimant not being redeployed. The EAT upheld the tribunal’s decision that this was a breach of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
There need not necessarily be an existing vacancy:
Chief Constable of South Yorkshire Police v Jelic EAT, 2010
The Employment Appeal Tribunal held that swapping jobs with another police officer, or medically retiring an officer and immediately re-employing him in a civilian support staff role, were capable of being reasonable adjustments. What mattered was what would be reasonable in the circumstances.
Possibly a variation on this is a newspaper report (January 2009) that a police officer’s probationary period had been extended to (so far) five years after he repeatedly failed passing-out exams because of difficulty talking. He was working in an admin job.
Leeds Teaching Hospital NHS Trust v Foster (link to bailii.org) EAT, 2011
Putting someone on a redeployment register to see if suitable alternative employment was available was held to be a reasonable adjustment, and there only had to be a prospect of him being redeployed (it was not necessary that there be a good or real prospect).
Not transferring to another job?
In some cases the person who stammers may not wish to move to another role which the employer wants him to take on, because he feels the stammer will give difficulties. (Sometimes a move could be a breach of contract anyway, unless the employee agrees.)
A United States police officer was working as a detective. He felt the stuttering actually helped by disarming some suspects into confessing. The Police Department was moving him to road patrol, which he considered would endanger his life and others due to his stutter. (Rather than ‘reasonable accommodation’ the claim in this particular case may have been that the reason for the move was connected with the stutter.) Stuttering Monroe Cop Fights Reassignment (link to wlwt.com) – article and video, 15/6/11.
See Reasonable adjustment rules: Dismissals, below on disciplinary procedures, and any other reasonable adjustments for the job on this page (including transfer to another job) which should be considered.
Assessment or appraisals
The Employment Code at para 6.33 includes as an example of a possible reasonable adjustment “Modifying procedures for assessment or appraisals”. I discuss this in the context of recruitment at Assessment of oral skills in recruitment.
Specific examples of what constitutes good communication skills at annual reviews which don’t inadvertently penalise people who stammer.
The BSA website also has some guidance for employers: scroll down to Performance reviews on Employers & HR professionals (stamma.org).
Disciplinary and grievance procedures
Disability awareness training
It is likely to be reasonable to include speech disorders such as stammering in disability awareness training for staff, for example how to communicate with someone who stammers. Training may also aim to reduce risk of harassment.
The Employment Code para 6.33 gives as an example of a possible reasonable adjustment: “Giving, or arranging for, training or mentoring (whether for the disabled person or any other worker).” The most obvious type of training for “other workers” is disability awareness training.
An app or an electronic fluency device (using DAF, FAF and/or masking) can help some people speak more fluently. See the BSA website Apps & devices (stamma.org).
Apps and software are quite cheap, whereas devices are often expensive. An Access to Work grant may be available towards the cost, even if the person is already employed. The Employment Code at paras 6.37-6.38 says it is likely to be a reasonable step for the employer to help a disabled person in making an application for assistance from Access to Work, and it may be unreasonable for an employer to decide not to make an adjustment based on its cost before finding out whether financial assistance for it is available from Access to Work or another source.
The Employment Code says:
There is no requirement to provide … equipment for personal purposes unconnected with a worker’s job, such as providing a wheelchair if a person needs one in any event but does not have one. The disadvantages in such a case do not flow from the employer’s arrangements or premises.
Employment Code, para 6.33
However, this reasoning does not seem to take into account the auxiliary aid adjustment duty for employment newly introduced in the Equality Act 2010. In any event, although a fluency device might be of use outside work, it is likely to be mainly needed for challenging speech situations at work, such as presentations, meetings and business phone calls.
I have heard of an employer paying for an electronic fluency device even without an Access to Work grant.