Last month saw the annual Left Handers Day with tweets hashtagged #lefthandersday posting pictures of the hardships left handers have to face daily – right handed scissors, desks and smudged hands thanks to right handed pads.
Although it is all in good humour, left handers are around 10% of the population, and as a recent study shows as few as a quarter of businesses provide specialist office equipment for left handed workers. It is not common for left handers to kick up a fuss in the workplace about these hardships and this may be driven by being brought up to cope in a right handed world; a worker may not speak up about their left-handedness. Any difficulties going unnoticed would therefore over time inevitably impact on the wellbeing of the left-handed employee. On the whole the right handed majority are ignorant to the advantages and disadvantages of day to day left-handedness in the office. For example it is little known that on a QWERTY keyboard there are 1447 English words typed solely with the left hand, whilst only 187 are typed with the right hand!
According to the research, 82.4% of employees believe employers have a duty to keep their stationery cupboard well stocked with adequate left handed tools. Consistent with modern day thinking, left-handedness is not considered a disability anymore and so therefore left handers do not have specific protection under discrimination laws on account of their left-handedness. This also means that there is no specific legal obligation for employers to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a left handed person – in other words there is no specific requirement to adapt working conditions to account for left-handedness unless it is a matter health and safety to do so. However this does not mean that there are no risk factors for employers arising out of left handers in the workplace.
There are however more general legal provisions around health and safety that require employers to provide a safe place to work for all staff. This includes making sure that work stations are adapted to account for the individual worker’s needs to avoid injury and reparative strain injuries – such as having the screen, phone, keyboard etc in a comfortable position as you would for any worker. There may also be some instances where the use of machinery may need specific thought if the operative is left handed. Adapting work stations and machinery might become more challenging where office space involves hot-desking and limited space available to adjust the position of equipment. There may be cases were an employer has to stump up money to adjust equipment and so an employer might be tempted to refuse to pay the cost of such equipment or may in extreme cases dismiss the employee if they are becoming troublesome. Indeed, as long as the nature of the equipment is not health and safety related there is no specific requirement for an employer to provide left handed equipment.
Although left handedness is no longer the stigma it has been historically, it is not inconceivable that bullying and harassment cases could involve anti left handed banter. However, given left handedness is not a disability, any related bullying and harassment claims related to this would only really give rise to a constructive unfair dismissal claim where compensation is typically lower than a successful discrimination claim. In the case of dismissing a staff of member because of issues related to left-handedness, such a dismissal would most likely be unfair dismissal (provided they have the two years qualifying service for such a claim), but there would be no other protection. Knowing that there are no enhanced rights for employers to accommodate left-handedness in the workplace may also explain why left handers are not, as a rule, in the habit of making strong complaints.
Nonetheless, it is still important for employers to have a positive and pragmatic approach to accommodating left-handedness for the sake of employee engagement and wellbeing if nothing else.