This page gives examples of possible reasonable adjustments for people who stammer as regards recruitment, including promotion. It is aimed at both people who stammer and employers. It’s a long page but you can click the Table of page contents for an overview. There is a separate page of examples in the job, once employed.
What is reasonable will depend on circumstances
What follows are just possible examples of reasonable adjustments. Further suggestions or comments are welcome – firstname.lastname@example.org. What is appropriate and reasonable will depend on all the circumstances (including the particular job, what is practicable etc), and different people who stammer have different needs. It will often be a good idea for the employer and the person who stammers to discuss what is appropriate.
Examples go beyond “reasonable adjustments”
This page is not restricted to the reasonable adjustment duty. Some examples below arise from the obligation to avoid ‘discrimination arising from disability’ or ‘indirect discrimination’: for example, recruitment decisions should be based on what is required for the particular job.
Much better to arrange adjustments in advance
For both job applicant and employer, it is preferable if at all possible to agree adjustments in advance, so the job candidate knows what will happen and the employer can make the arrangements.
Particularly in a recruitment situation, giving an employer advance notice of the need for adjustments (probably when invited to interview) makes them more likely to happen in practice, and can often help an argument that the adjustments are legally required.
A job applicant will know better how the recruitment process will put them at a disadvantage and what adjustments to request if they find out from the employer how the recruitment process will run before explaining difficulties and requesting specific adjustments.
Best person for the job
An employer can appoint the best person for the job, bearing in mind any adjustments it will be reasonable to make in the job. However, without reasonable adjustments in the recruitment process, it may not become apparent that the person who stammers is the best person for the job.
Y v Calderdale Council (2003) and Y v Bradford Council (2006) are examples of cases where the tribunal held that an employer had failed to make sufficient reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process for a person who stammers. In Calderdale the tribunal found that the applicant would have had a 50-50 chance of getting the job had proper adjustments been made. There are more cases on reasonable adjustments for stammering at Recruitment and promotion>Some cases on reasonable adjustments for stammering.
“Excellent communication skills”
Many jobs ask for “excellent” or “good” communication skills, but that really means nothing. I suggest employers should be much more specific on what is needed. For example, does the job need ability to write clear structured reports (where a stammer is not relevant), or ability to deal with frustrated customers on the telephone (which is different from many other types of oral skill). See further Assessment of oral skills>What specific communications skills?
An employer uses a person specification for an accountant’s post that states “employees must be confident in dealing with external clients” when in fact the job in question does not involve liaising directly with external clients. This requirement is unnecessary and could lead to discrimination against disabled people who have difficulty interacting with others, such as some people with autism.
Employment Code para 16.4
Also important is that excellent oral communication skills should not be seen as requiring fluency. Some people who stammer have excellent oral communication skills, while stammering: Excellent communication skills.
The British Stammering Association (Stamma) has some guidance for employers on requiring “good communication skills”: see Writing the job ad & person spec on
Job candidates who stammer (stamma.org). Also for people who stammer ‘Good communication skills’ on Job interviews & stammering.
Related issues include:
- if the recruitment process includes assessments of oral skills, are all the abilities being tested actually required for the job: see separate page Oral assessments in recruitment
- if the recruitment process includes a presentation, are presentation skills really important for the job: Presentations in recruitment>Are presentation skills really important for the job?
Are the stated qualifications really required? Research indicates that the higher a person’s severity of stammering, the lower their academic attainment: O’Brian et al, Stuttering severity and educational attainment, Journal of Fluency Disorders 36 (2011) 86–92. DOI: 10.1016/j.jfludis.2011.02.006. It is not suggested people who stammer are less intelligent, but the finding may be due to barriers in the education system.
Lower levels of academic attainment are doubtless also found in various other disabilities, and in older people since fewer older people went to university. Therefore unjustified academic requirements are potentially unlawful as indirect age discrimination, as well as disability discrimination generally.
Arriving at the building
Consider what will happen when the candidate arrives. For example is there an entry phone which may cause problems? Are reception staff prepared for candidates who stammer? (Job candidates who stammer (stamma.org)).
Example: When a job applicant arrives at reception, the receptionist laughs at the stammer. This is likely to be unlawful harassment contrary to the Equality Act. It may also put off an excellent job candidate.
Possible adjustments are suggested below. However, if the job candidate is at a substantial (ie more than minor or trivial) disadvantage in an oral interview even with adjustments, alternatives such as written responses (below) should be considered, even if a job requires oral skills. As discussed under that link, a disadvantage may exist even if the person sounds fairly fluent.
Also a telephone or video interview (below) may require an adjusted format, such as doing it face-to-face or in writing.
Oral interview: awareness of interviewers
Information about the individual’s stammer
It can be very helpful, if the job applicant wishes, to distribute to the interview panel in advance a side of A4, say, about their stammer.
This could tell the interview panel something about stammering in general, but also about how that individual stammers, what effects their stammer has, what is going on under the surface – particularly the stammer as it is in interviews where effects are likely to be greater. The document should be tailored to the individual. However it might make clear for example that hesitations do not mean the person is nervous, or does not know the answer or is unsure of what to say. It could also explain that they sometimes swap out words or phrases they can’t say, so for example they might use an alternative word for a specialist/jargon term the interviewers may be expecting to hear.
In any event interviewers should be aware of stammering issues, and can get information from STAMMA (the British Stammering Association): see some links to STAMMA above. For example:
- Be aware that people who stammer may substitute words and phrases they can say for words they cannot (Hiding the stammer>Word substitution and “fillers”).
- Consider ignoring overuse of ‘filler/comfort’ words or terms such as “you know” and “in fact”. People who stammer often use these to help them get through dysfluency, and to disguise it.
- People who stammer may hold back from expressing themselves fully, eg may not answer interview questions fully, because of fear of stammering or the effort of speaking. This may well be an indication that the person needs further adjustments – see below Limited responses.
- Don’t say things like “we have a certain amount of time”, which puts time pressure on the person.
- It is very possible that the person will communicate more easily in the work situation than in the interview, even if the work situation might be seen as ‘more challenging’. A person who stammers will often be even more stressed by an interview than other interviewees, and this will often exacerbate the stammer, or the person’s attempts to hide it. They may come across as reticent, hesitant or confused, and use strategies mentioned above such as fillers or substituting words to help mask the stammer. Interviewers should concentrate on what the person is saying rather than how they say it, and focus on how they would be in the job – see below Oral interview: not appropriate to assess workplace communication – rather than necessarily how the person is in the interview.
This will be appropriate for some, and perhaps many, people who stammer. An example of a possible reasonable adjustment given by British Stammering Association is “Additional time or no time limit for interviews”: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).
Longer time: Scheduling interview at end of session
Interviewers might not allow sufficient extra time because they feel they have to end the interview when the next interviewee’s appointment time arrives – or soon after, so that the next interviewee doesn’t wait too long. A way to deal with this is to schedule the interview of the person who stammers at the end of a session. This gives greater flexibility to extend the interview as required.
It seems reasonable for an employer to have to schedule the interview in this way, at least if it knows or should know of the issue in advance. An advance request by the person who stammers will make the adjustment more likely to happen in practice, as well as making it more likely that the employer is legally required to do it.
Longer time: Being explicit that longer time is allowed
Being explicit that extra time is allowed can help reduce time pressure the interviewee may feel. This may help the stammer, and perhaps encourage the person not to limit responses (below) so much.
Y v West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Employment Tribunal, 2020
The claimant argued the employer should have explicitly offered an extended interview prior to the interview. The interviewers had agreed between themselves that they would allow the claimant extra time during the interview if required but did not tell the claimant. The claimant stated in evidence that he believed they were under implicit time pressure in the interview. However the claimant did not identify to the tribunal any specific further points that he could have raised during his interview, so the tribunal held that on the particular facts the adjustment would not have made a difference.
Longer time: How much extra time
How much extra time is required to compensate for the person’s disadvantage will obviously depend on the person. Some people who stammer take very much longer to speak, some do not. The legal duty is, broadly, to take reasonable steps (which may include additional adjustments as well as extra time) to avoid the disadvantage compared with non-disabled people.
For some job applicants, allowing any amount of extra time in the interview will not be enough – see next heading.
Longer time: Additional adjustments may well be required
Allowing a longer time can be important, but is not necessarily enough. For example despite having a longer time, the person may limit how much they say so as not to stammer so much in front of the interviewers: below Oral interview: Limited responses.
In HM Land Registry v Wakefield the employer offered longer time alongside other adjustments, including allowing the candidate to supplement his oral answers with something in writing (below).
Oral interview: not appropriate to assess workplace communication
It is very possible that the person will communicate more easily in the work situation than in the interview, even if the workplace situation might be seen as ‘more challenging’. See separate page Assessment of oral skills.
Columbus v Liebhart, Ohio Court of Appeals, 1993
In this United States case, there was held to be unlawful discrimination where an applicant for a fire fighter job was turned down because he stammered in the interview. He had worked as a fire fighter for 10 years and his stuttering did not interfere with the performance of his job duties.
Oral interview: Limited responses
Even if given more time, a person who stammers may say less or give answers which lack depth because they are trying to hide or reduce their stammer, or because of the time and effort it takes them to speak (as in Y v Calderdale Council). People who stammer often try to hide/reduce their stammer generally, but may be particularly concerned about this in a job interview as they may feel it will prejudice the employer.
This may not be readily apparent, or interviewers may feel he is not answering questions ‘properly’ or ‘fully’ as in HM Land Registry v Wakefield and Reasonable adjustment settlement. In any event, the job applicant may not communicate enough through speech to score as they should vis-a-vis other candidates.
One solution may be to allow written answers (below) to interview questions, and sometimes that may be the only way to avoid the disadvantage. However the following (quite likely a combination of them) are some other possible reasonable adjustments to enable the person who stammers to supplement their oral answers so as to convey the information that other candidates are able to, so as to put them on a level playing field:
- follow-up questions (below) where answers seem unduly short or lack depth
- supplementing the interview from written application documents (below), and perhaps allowing these to be longer
- allowing the applicant a chance after the interview to write up anything he was unable to say at the interview (below)
- opportunity to produce written evidence (below), such as narrative about or testimonials from previous jobs showing evidence of skills
- if those are not sufficient to avoid the disadvantage, written responses to interview questions (below), or possibly use of technology (below).
A candidate who tends to limit their responses should be aware that they may well not have a right to reasonable adjustments for this unless they have made sure the employer knows they tend to limit interview answers because of their stammer. A tribunal may well decide that even though the employer knows of the stammer, the employer cannot reasonably be expected to know that any unduly limited answers at the interview are because of the stammer (unless perhaps the person is obviously struggling, as in Y v Calderdale above): see Y v West Yorkshire Combined Authority, 2020, discussed at Should I tell the employer I stammer?> Consider telling the employer what the ‘substantial disadvantage’ is. Of course it may well also be sensible for the candidate to suggest any particular adjustments they would like to deal with the issue.
Of course, sometimes limited responses may not be the result of a stammer. In S v Translink the tribunal was happy that these were due to lack of preparation by the claimant.
Limited responses: Follow-up questions
The interviewers could ask follow-up questions where answers seem unduly limited or lack depth. This is one way to help mitigate the problem of limited responses (above), though it may not be enough in itself.
Y v West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Employment Tribunal, 2020
The claimant requested before the interview that “the panel actively asks follow-up questions particularly if my answers appear overly short or concise”. The interview panel decided it would do this. The tribunal evidently concluded that the interviewers had done so sufficiently, saying the claimant did not identify in evidence any specific points which he could have raised if asked further follow-up questions. The tribunal held there was no breach of the reasonable adjustment duty.
However there are limitations to follow-up questions, such as:
- not knowing when the person has more to say, and
- even if a follow-up question is asked, the person may decide not to set out on what feels to them a difficult oral explanation, in which they believe they will stammer a lot. Or they may significantly shorten it leaving out important points, or say something different to what they really want because they are substituting words or phrases.
Therefore it may be appropriate to add other adjustments such as supplementing the interview from written application documents (below) and/or allowing a chance after the interview to write up anything he was unable to say at the interview (below). In some cases, alternatives to the oral interview itself – such as written answers (below) – should be considered:
Oral follow-up questions are also discussed below as a supplement to written answers: Written answers: Follow-up questions – oral?
Limited responses: Supplementing oral interview from written application documents
Interviewers could supplement interview answers with written information from the person’s application form and other papers if they would not otherwise do so, giving the written information no less weight than the interview answers: see Reasonable adjustment settlement. It may well be unreasonable to mark the candidate down for failing to mention orally in response to a question something which is in the person’s application form or CV – eg where it is apparent that they have particular experience or skills which they do not mention orally.
This is another way to help mitigate the problem of limited responses (above), though it may not be enough in itself.
A person who stammers may wish to suggest this reasonable adjustment to an employer, outlining that it is because they tend to limit what they say because of the stammer, even if given a longer time for the interview.
Also, the person who stammers may wish to give a particularly full written description of why he or she meets the person/job specification. It may be reasonable for the employer to waive or increase a word limit if there is one, or at least to allow submission of a further document with more detail if the person is invited to interview. Of course interviewers could also ask follow-up questions (above) aimed at expanding on or verifying information given.
Limited responses: Chance to write extra after oral interview
The employer might allow the applicant a chance after the interview to write up anything he was unable to say at the interview. This is another way to help mitigate the problem of limited responses (above), though it may not be enough in itself.
In HM Land Registry v Wakefield, the employer agreed that at the end of the interview, when candidates were normally asked if they wanted to add anything, he could summarise his ideas for the job on a single side of A4.
Note: An issue would be whether that limit on length is justified in a particular case.
A limitation is that once out of the interview the applicant may find it difficult bring to mind what he would like to have added at various different points in the interview. That could possibly be helped by allowing the candidate to make brief notes in the interview to remind him of anything he wants to write afterwards, and/or let him have a copy of the interview questions after the interview.
Limited responses: Written evidence
Overlapping with the previous point, the applicant could be given the opportunity to produce written evidence, such as narrative about or testimonials from previous jobs showing evidence of skills. Where the applicant who stammers is given this opportunity, the employer may wish to extend it to other applicants so as to be able to compare like with like.
On taking account of work history in recruitment, see Oral assessments>Work history.
Oral interview: Eye contact
Some people who stammer find it helpful to be able to maintain eye contact with someone when speaking, or to have someone’s active attention even when the person who stammers may not themself be maintaining eye contact. I suggest employers should not make assumptions about what a particular individual who stammers will find helpful, but could ask the person, both as to whether maintaining eye is important and how best to achieve it. Possible ways to achieve it include:
- Having an extra person sitting alongside the interviewers whose job it is to maintain eye contact, even when the interviewers are making notes.
- At least one interviewer maintains eye contact:
- If all the interviewers have to score answers, perhaps an audio recording could be made so that notes and scoring by the person maintaining eye contact can be done afterwards, refreshing their memory from the recording or a transcript; or
- if it works for the particular interviewee, it might be agreed that the interviewee can pause speaking at any time when both interviewers are taking notes, and that any extra time for the interview will be sufficient to allow for this.
- In the absence of an arrangement such as those, having at least two interviewers may help to some extent, so that if one is taking notes the other one will at least sometimes be able to keep eye contact. The claimant argued for this in the Translink case below. However both interviewers may be making notes at the same time, and the claimant in the West Yorkshire Combined Authority case (also below) did not find it enough to have two interviewers.
- In the West Yorkshire Combined Authority case (below) the claimant argued that a scribe should have been used to note down answers. However I wonder if that would be enough to enable interviewers to score answers afterwards.
Y v West Yorkshire Combined Authority, Employment Tribunal, 2020
One adjustment which the claimant argued should have been made was “arranging for a scribe to record oral answers, removing the need for the panel to make written notes, and enabling natural eye contact to be unbroken when the claimant was providing his responses”. However the tribunal found as a fact that the two interviewers took it in turns to ask questions and write notes, enabling the other to maintain natural eye contact whilst the claimant was providing his responses. Therefore the adjustment was not required.
See my comments on this part of the case at Y v West Yorkshire Combined Authority>Arranging for a scribe. As discussed above, having two interviewers may not in itself be enough to maintain eye contact, but I think there are better solutions than having a scribe.
S v Translink, Industrial Tribunal Northern Ireland, 2008
There was only one interviewer and the claimant said he would have prefered two, as he found the lack of eye contact difficult. The issue was presumably that the one interviewer was taking notes a lot of the time.
Oral interview: Number of interviewers
Having fewer people present may put less pressure on the person’s speech, and may be a reasonable adjustment. This may be helpful even if interviewer numbers would normally be relatively small.
In an extreme example, in one interview the whole university department was present.
On the other hand there is the issue of maintaining eye contact (above) if the individual finds this helpful.
In S v Translink the claimant argued that the interviewer could have acknowledged his impediment and reassured him that he could take his time. The tribunal accepted the claimant’s evidence that this might have been reassuring to him. However the tribunal was also able to accept the fear expressed by the interviewer that any such comment might be misinterpreted.
Anyway, in that case it was not held to be a reasonable adjustment because the claimant’s failure to provide examples of his competence areas was down to lack of preparation rather than speech difficulties. Also the employer had not been told in advance of the stammer, and so had no foreknowledge of the claimant’s situation.
Employers will of course want to avoid breaching s.60 EqA on pre-employment enquiries.
Advance notice of the interview questions to allow some preparation time was provided in HM Land Registry v Wakefield, though the candidate had serious reservations about it being an effective adjustment for him. See HM Land Registry v Wakefield>My comments: Preparation time as reasonable adjustment?
Oral interview: Type of chair
For a few people who stammer, a particular sitting position may help their speech. For example, those using a technique called ‘vocal fold management’ are likely to want an upright chair.
Telephone or video interviews
Greater difficulty than face-to-face
Many people who stammer find speaking on the telephone particularly difficult. A telephone interview may therefore put a person who stammers at a greater disadvantage than a face-to-face oral interview.
Some – probably many – who stammer will find a video interview easier than the telephone because it helps to be able to see the other person. (One tip from US speech therapist Tim Mackesey is to set up a mirror: Success with online interviewing (youtube).) However, even if it is easier than the telephone, many may find it more difficult than face-to-face.
It depends on the individual, but on average probably a face-to-face interview is best where possible (unless perhaps a face covering is required, which gives some people who stammer particular difficulties), second best a video interview, and many people who stammer would see a telephone interview as the worst option.
Before Covid-19 (separate page), it was mainly screening interviews (below) that were conducted remotely. Due to the pandemic many employers also shifted their main job interviews to a remote format, probably live video: Job interviews go online as candidates stuck at home (bbc.co.uk), March 2020. However with Covid restrictions now lifted in England and guidance relaxed, from spring 2022, a face-to-face interview may well now be practicable again. A person who stammers might argue that a face-to-face interview is now reasonable, given the government no longer advises people to work from home (at least in England). On 19th January 2022 the government withdrew its previous advice for office workers in England to work from home if possible, and relaxed its guidance even further from 1st April: Coronavirus (Covid-19)>Links on social distancing guidance in England. Whether there are considerations that make a face-to-face interview unreasonable in the particular case will of course depend on the circumstances.
If a face-to-face interview is really still not practicable or is otherwise not reasonable, then if extra time and other reasonable adjustments (below) to a remote interview would not create a level playing field for a particular job applicant who stammers, compared with fluent job applicants, it may be a reasonable adjustment to allow them to give written answers (below) instead. That link discusses further how a person who stammers might be at a disadvantage in an oral interview, remote or otherwise. In the case of an initial screening interview, another possibility is to waive the screening interview.
I suggest that for any remote interview, whether main interview or initial screening interview:
- If the employer would normally use a video or phone interview and it knows of the stammer, it should ask the person whether they would be disadvantaged by that. If they would be, it may be possible to avoid the disadvantage through allowing extra time and other adjustments. However if not, alternatives should be considered, including face-to-face if practicable.
- If a video or phone interview goes ahead and it is apparent that the person who stammers is being disadvantaged, it may be reasonable to suspend the interview and consider alternatives. In Y v Calderdale Council, 2003, the employment tribunal held that it would have been reasonable to adjourn a face-to-face interview where the job applicant was clearly having difficulty with his stammer, and devise a suitable alternative format, such as giving answers in writing. This may apply even if the applicant agreed to a video or phone interview: in Y v Bradford Council, 2006, the job applicant had agreed the time allowed for a presentation exercise but the tribunal found the time allowance was insufficient.
I discuss remote oral assessments (such as online group discussion exercises) separately on Oral assessments in recruitment>Remote assessments (Zoom etc).
Telephone or video interviews: Possible adjustments
These examples are not exhaustive and will depend on the individual:
- Having a face-to-face interview instead of a remote one, especially with Covid restrictions now being relaxed (above). However if a face mask/covering would reasonably be required, these cause particular difficulties for some people who stammer
- Switching a phone interview to a video interview (with any appropriate further adjustments), if the applicant would find that helpful.
- Generally adjustments discussed on this web page. However greater reasonable adjustments may be required for a telephone or video interview than for a face-to-face interview, because of the individual finding it more difficult. For example greater extra time may be needed, and other adjustments discussed on this page may be all the more important, including opportunities to supplement answers in writing because of the person limiting their responses.
- Even more than for a face-to-face interview (see Oral assessments in recruitment>Interview: Not an appropriate way to assess oral skills), I’d say employers should bear in mind that the person’s speech in a remote interview is not a reliable guide to how they will communicate in the job (even on the phone or in a video meeting). If an employer does judge the person’s speech on the basis of the remote interview, the employer may find if all the more difficult to justify its decision under the Equality Act.
- If a face-to-face interview is not practicable and adjustments to a remote interview would not create a level playing field for the individual, it may be a reasonable adjustment to allow written answers (below) or to waive an initial screening interview.
Telephone or video: screening interviews
For many years, phone or video interviews have often been used for initial screening. Possible adjustments here include:
- Waive the person who stammers through the screening stage;
- Offer a face-to-face interview (with any appropriate adjustments), or non-oral arrangements;
- Have a video interview where you can see each other (with any appropriate adjustments), if this would avoid the disadvantage for the particular individual.
- Other adjustments above: Telephone or video interviews: Possible adjustments.
‘Face-to-face interview offered as an option instead of a telephone interview.’
Example of possible reasonable adjustment on the Stamma/British Stammering Association website: Reasonable adjustments (stamma.org).and Job candidates who stammer (stamma.org) which includes further possibilities.
Artificial intelligence (AI) may discriminate against disabled people, including people who stammer, if used to score an interview: see Discrimination by computer algorithm: recruitment.
Assessments and assessment centres
Oral assessments, including assessment centres, are dealt with on Oral assessments in recruitment.
One important question is whether the employer is justified in assessing particular oral skills. If not, then for example a written assessment could be a reasonable alternative.
Even if assessment of the oral skills is justified, this should be done in such a way as to minimise discriminatory effects consistent with assessing what is needed, for example having the assessment situation as close as possible to the situation in the job, and allowing adjustments that would be reasonable in the workplace. This is all discussed at the link above.
Presentations (in recruitment)
See Presentations in recruitment. Again the extent of adjustments, including whether a written alternative is reasonable, will depend partly on whether the employer is justified in assessing particular oral skills.
Interviews – written answers
It may be reasonable for the job applicant to be allowed to give written answers to the interviewers’ list of pre-set interview questions (and possibly other questions), rather than having to answer orally.
Particular points while Coronavirus (Covid-19) restrictions lasted were:
- A face-to-face interview, which the person could do with appropriate adjustments, may have been excluded by the pandemic. If the person would be put at even more of a disadvantage by a remote interview (video or audio), written answers may be a more likely reasonable adjustment than if the interview were face-to-face.
- It may be reasonable to give the written answers remotely rather than going to the employer’s premises.
Written answers: When may these be required/reasonable?
Y v Calderdale Council, Employment Tribunal, 2003
The claimant had a severe stammer. The employer allowed more time for the interview, but the amount of information he was able to convey compared to other candidates was still much reduced.
The tribunal fully accepted that the job applicant received sympathetic and well-meaning treatment from the two interviewers who tried to give him time to answer, refrained from interrupting him, and made some gentle attempts to probe his answers. However, this was not sufficient to comply with the employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments; the employer had failed to comply with that duty. The tribunal suggested other adjustments the Council could have considered, including written answers.
Y v Bradford Council, Employment Tribunal, 2006
An employer adjusted the recruitment process for a person with a severe stammer by allowing written responses to pre-set interview questions, and a written equivalent of a presentation exercise. However, there was held to be a breach of the reasonable adjustment duty. The claimant had not been given enough time for the written presentation. Also he had not been told how long he had to write the interview answers.
As regards both face-to-face and remote interviews, the alternative of giving written responses is not limited to cases where the person would be stammering severely. Even a person who does not seem to be stammering much may be adapting and limiting what he says to minimise how much he stammers openly, with the result that he fails to show in-depth experiences and examples (above Oral interview: Limited responses and the Wakefield case below). Nor are written responses necessarily excluded if the job requires oral skills (see Oral assessments in recruitment and again the Wakefield case below). Key questions are whether other adjustments are enough to avoid the individual job applicant being at a substantial (ie more than minor or trivial) disadvantage at the oral interview compared with fluent job applicants, and whether in the circumstances written responses are a reasonable adjustment to allow.
HM Land Registry v Wakefield, Employment Tribunal and EAT, 2007/2008
The employment tribunal held the employer should have allowed written answers even where outwardly the job applicant did not stammer that much at the interview. This was because covert symptoms of the stammer such as word avoidance meant that he “failed to show in-depth experiences and examples,” and was thus unable to build on the information in his application form like other candidates. Also, given that the candidate had a stammering problem in interviews, it was not reasonable to use these to ascertain how his oral skills would be on the job itself.
This decision was overturned by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) on the evidence. However the case illustrates a situation where with appropriate evidence the adjustment might be required. The EAT seemed to think that on the particular facts it might be reasonable to use an interview as a tool to ascertain oral skills on the job. However, I would expect that to be rebuttable with appropriate evidence – see Oral assessments in recruitment.
Coronavirus raised new issues. The person who stammers might be able to do a face-to-face interview with appropriate adjustments, but the employer may have considered that format not to be reasonable due to social distancing (an argument which is now less strong in England given the relaxation of Covid restrictions). The employer may instead have been doing remote interviews (live video or audio): see above Oral interview: Telephone or video interviews. If a face-to-face interview is not feasible, giving written answers instead may be reasonable if a remote interview would put the job applicant at a substantial disadvantage compared with fluent job applicants – if the disadvantage cannot be avoided by extra time and other reasonable adjustments to the remote interview. Some people who stammer may be OK with live video, finding that it helps to see the person – but others will not be, especially for a stressful job interview.
Written answers: How much time to allow?
Subject to the reasonableness test, presumably any time limit for producing written answers should enable the candidate to write the same amount as any time allowance for a spoken interview allows other candidates to say. For example, if a particular person types or writes four times slower than normal speaking pace, they should be allowed four times as long. See my comment at Y v Bradford Council>Comments: What ratio for writing versus speech?
Basing the calculation on the average length of time that oral interviews actually take (multiplying that to adjust for writing speed), as in Y v Bradford Council, seems both impracticable – as this will not be known in advance – and wrong in principle: see Y v Bradford Council>Comments: Time allowed for answering interview questions.
If follow-up questions (below) are dealt with separately afterwards, it may be reasonable to reduce by a small amount the full interview time allowance on which the calculation is based, to reflect the fact that the time limit is only for initial answers. This is tricky though as it is difficult to know in advance how far exploratory follow-up questions will be required. Also a non-disabled candidate in an oral interview has greater ability to say what they want over the whole interview time, compared with someone who is allowed a shorter time (after adjustment for writing speed) to give their written main answers and – for the rest of the time – is dependent on the topics the employer chooses to raise in follow-ups.
Written answers: Telling the applicant how much time, and how process will run
The job applicant should be given details in advance of how the selection process will run, including the time allowance to write answers. The tribunal in Y v Bradford Council held that the employer’s failure to do this was a breach of its duty to make reasonable adjustments. In particular the applicant should have been told how long he had to write answers, so that he could manage his time. It was also misleading in that case that the applicant was told he would be given 9 questions where there are actually in 21 sub-parts.
Written answers: Giving them remotely
The normal way of giving written answers might be in an office at the employer’s premises. However it could potentially be done remotely, whether due to Covid-19 or for other reasons.
One option is emailing the questions to the person at a pre-agreed time, and he emails the responses back within the relevant time limit.
Some kind of online chat facility might also be feasible. However this may have the disadvantage that the interviewee feels under pressure to keep his answers short, both because he feels people are waiting for them at the other end, and because answers in that format are more commonly brief.
If follow-ups are answered orally, adjustments may be required to help level the playing field such as allowing enough time for the oral answers, and perhaps an opportunity after the oral follow-ups to write anything he was unable to say.
Reasons for oral follow-ups:
- Lack of opportunity to interact personally with the interview panel may itself put the applicant who stammers at a disadvantage, in that personal interaction can be a significant part of the interviewers’ assessment of a person. This was acknowledged by the employment tribunal in Y v Bradford Council. The tribunal’s rejection of the claim on this point was for reasons which are unlikely to apply now: see Y v Bradford Council>Comments: Lack of opportunity to interact with panel.
- Not asking follow-ups at all to explore his answers may put him at a disadvantage if other candidates are asked follow-ups.
- It also gives the candidate an opportunity to ask questions.
Asking supplemental questions orally was suggested by the employment tribunal in HM Land Registry v Wakefield, as well as by the claimant in Y v Bradford Council (above).
Written answers: Generally
Alternatively written sources could be combined with an oral interview if that is enough to avoid the disadvantage – see options at Oral interview: Limited responses above.
Interviews – use of technology
Note: The types of technology below are not widely used by people who stammer. It may be only rarely that a job applicant would want to use them.
Text to screen
Case study: A job applicant who stammers was provided with facilities at an interview where he could type answers into a laptop and these would be projected onto the wall or a large screen. He had the option to speak orally – and mostly did speak orally – but could supplement this by typing where he chose to. See Projector case study.
I’ve only heard of this being suggested by the employer, not requested by someone who stammers. I discuss it below at Points on both ‘text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’.
Y v Calderdale Council, Employment Tribunal, 2003
The tribunal gave ‘text to screen’ as one possible option which could have been considered with the claimant had the Council adjourned the question and answer session, as it should have done given his obvious problems.
‘Text to speech’ (TTS)
Again ‘text to speech’ is not commonly used by people who stammer. However the claimant partly used it in Y v Calderdale Council, and wanted to use it another case which settled:
Y v Calderdale Council, Employment Tribunal, 2003
The claimant used ‘text to speech’ in a pre-prepared oral presentation. He did not claim discrimination for this part of the recruitment process.
He did not use ‘text to speech’ in the question and answer session, for which the tribunal upheld his reasonable adjustment claim. The tribunal commented “It would have been slow and cumbersome – in contrast to the pre-prepared presentation he would have had to type in the answer to each question.” Even so, the tribunal did give ‘text to speech’ as one possible option which could have been considered with the claimant had the Council adjourned the oral question and answer session, as it should have done.
Reasonable adjustment settlement, 2006
In this case which settled without a tribunal decision, the job applicant wished to use ‘text to speech’ in the interview, with his own laptop. However he did not because the facilities in the interview room where inadequate for him to do so.
‘Text to speech’ can work in a presentation which the job applicant has been allowed adequate time to prepare in advance, normally before arrival: see Presentations in recruitment. That page includes some brief consideration of ‘text to speech’ in a presentation exercise in Y v Bradford Council. See also adjustments for presentations during the job.
Points on both ‘text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’
These options are not widely used by people who stammer. It may be only rarely that a job applicant would want to use them.
In brief, ‘text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’ are likely to be too slow a way to answer interview questions unless they are just a supplement to largely oral answers. Where a person really has a severe stammer, and would need to write most of what he wants to say, written answers (above) may be the answer.
Possible advantages of ‘text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’, as opposed to simply writing answers (above) to pre-set written questions, include:
- There is face-to-face interaction with the interview panel (Y v Bradford Council>Comments: Lack of opportunity to interact with panel).
- Follow-up questions can be asked.
- Importantly, the candidate can speak so far as he feels able and write so far as he cannot.
- If a candidate has given written answers to pre-set written questions, this type of facility could be considered for follow-up questions.
Possible disadvantages of ‘text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’, or issues to be addressed, include:
- Will the job applicant feel he has permission to take the time he needs to write what he wants?
- Linked with that, depending on the individual, these adjustments may not overcome a person’s tendency to give limited responses (above). For example the adjustments may not overcome their desire to appear as a ‘normal’ fluent person so far as possible.
- A break may be required.
- Both job applicants in Projector case study reported that in practice they tried to speak – and stammer – rather than using the ‘text to screen’ option. But it may be different for different individuals.
- Length of time taken, including of the interview panel, if nearly everything is written. ‘Text to screen’ and ‘text to speech’ are likely to be too slow a way to answer interview questions unless perhaps they are just a supplement to largely oral answers. They may take too long if a person really has a severe stammer and would need to write most of what he wants to say, bearing in mind that to put him on a level playing field the applicant should be allowed to write answers of equivalent length to candidates who just use speech: Written answers: How much time to allow? In that case, if an alternative to an oral interview is required, written answers (above) may be the answer.
- In any event, sufficient additional time will need to be allocated (cf above Written answers: How much time to allow?).
- A person who brings their own laptop with ‘text to speech’ or ‘text to screen’ software is likely to need an appropriate seat and a table at the right height to rest the laptop on, as well as a power source. For ‘text to screen’, facilities for clear display of the text to the interviewers will need to be considered. For ‘text to speech’, external speakers may be required, sufficient to ensure that all the panel can hear easily. In Reasonable adjustment settlement (on ‘text to speech’) it was argued that the arrangements were inadequate – the person was crouched up on a low seat without a suitable surface or speakers. What is required should be discussed with the job applicant beforehand.
- If the individual does not have their own laptop and relevant software, and use of this technology is a reasonable adjustment in the circumstances, it may be reasonable for the employer to provide computer equipment and software as well.
- Depending on the circumstances, it may not be reasonable to mark a job applicant down for lack of presentational or oral skills for using such technology – nor indeed for stammering. See Assessment of oral skills.
Subject to the points above, and to the views of the person who stammers, using ‘text to screen’ or ‘text to speech’ for interview answers may be an option to consider where the candidate is able to speak to a significant extent. Where a candidate has given written answers to pre-set written questions, this type of facility could be considered for follow-up questions.