After losing employment tribunal, Brewdog pays out £12,000

A former employee of the Craft Beer company Brewdog was sacked because he revealed that he was about to be declared legally blind. The company is now set to pay out £12,000 to James Ross.

Mr Ross stated that his eyesight had deteriorated over some years while he worked at the Aberdeen site. The company suggested they move Mr Ross to a different department, and when he refused, they sacked him.

The Scottish Herald reported the case and said that the judge Nick Hosie described the decision to sack him as astonishing. It seemed that Brewdog had 'paid lip service' to the law when they proceeded to fire Mr Ross.

Brewdog retaliated by stating that part of their obligation to staff was to ensure the safety of all employees.

Mr Ross joined the packing team in 2016, and this was when he informed the company of his sight problems. Nothing was done at that time. It was the following January when he told his manager that his sight was deteriorating even further. Mr Ross later provided a medical report saying that he would need further tests. It seemed that he would be declared legally blind after they had been completed.

At that point Mr Ross was rated as a high-risk employee by the health and safety manager. They sought advice from the sight loss charity RNIB for any adjustments that they could make, but later decided to dismiss Mr Ross.

The decision to dismiss Mr Ross came after he had been offered a role in the computer department. Mr Ross declined the position as working with computers was harder for his eyes. The tribunal heard that the managers who fired Mr Ross were not aware that they needed to make any further adjustments under the Equality Act.

Judge Nick Hosie stated that the company should feel very uncomfortable at their lack of awareness of legal obligations. They should have felt it merited at least some consideration in adjustments for an employee which was recognised as disabled.

Mr Ross, after winning his case, said that the way Brewdog had handled his case was really poor, considering the size of the company. The managers had no idea of how to handle it, and simply wanted to end it. They never intended to make any adjustments.

Mr Ross went on to say that Brewdog claims that they are a top company to work for, but the tribunal had showed things differently.

A spokesperson for Brewdog agreed that it had been a very difficult situation for all the team. It must also have been a hard decision for the tribunal as they also had a split decision. Brewdog said that they had worked with Mr Ross to find another suitable role within the business where his safety would not be an issue, but Mr Ross had wanted to keep the packaging position.

Brewdog found themselves in a position where they had to balance the wishes of the individual with the best interests of the team around him. Regrettably a decision could not be reached. Morally, Brewdog felt it should prioritise the team's safety.

RNIB said that they were invited to suggest changes which could be made to help Mr Ross stay in his job. Many changes can be made within companies with the cost for additional aids and equipment often being funded by a government scheme called Access to Work.

A spokesperson for the RNIB concluded by saying that many companies assume that legally blind people are impossible to employ. This is simply not the case. Many people who are declared legally blind can in fact see something. It is a common misconception that a person cannot work because they have visual impairments.

In Scotland there are many people who work with sight loss in roles such as journalists, physicists and bankers, and it is important that we focus not on what people cannot do, but on what every employee can achieve.

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