Anything Left-Handed > Blog Posts > Newsletter articles > March 2011 > Discrimination against lefthanders at work

Discrimination against lefthanders at work

We received this email from Ann recently:

Hi,
I was wondering if you could help me, I work in a small supermarket and have just been told of a new way of scanning the products and packing the bag. As we sit on the tills the conveyor belt is on the right and the bag packing area on the left. After scanning the items I have been told to hold the bag in my left hand whilst packing with my right hand, which obviously for a left handed person is very awkward and would in fact slow down the process rather than the desired effect of speeding up the transaction. This is something they are auditing us on, and it is written in black and white that the left hand is to hold the bag and the right hand is to pack. When I asked whether I had to do as they said I was told if I refused to comply with the new system I could face disciplinary action. Surely this is discrimination?!! I was wondering if you know of any document or paperwork that would confirm this that I could take to them early next week?
Many thanks

What we said was…

I am amazed that they are making you do that and it certainly is discriminatory (and bad for their business I would have thought) but unfortunately there is no specific legal protection for discrimination against lefthanders as far as I know so probably not   much you can do about it apart from complaining to your employer.   I am sure it would make an interesting test case but that is not much help to you.

I would like to put your email (without your real name or email address) up as a blog post on our website and maybe feature it in our next newsletter to get some feedback from Left Handers Club members on whether they have heard of anything similar or have any ideas on what you may be able to do about it.   Is that OK?

It was, and here it is – have you had any experiences similar to this and do you have any advice on what action could be taken?   Please add your comments below.

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Posted in Lefty info, March 2011

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31 comments on “Discrimination against lefthanders at work
  1. jessie says:

    well if it means any thing i may have been fired today for not being able to operate a right handed saw as fast as a right handed person

  2. ian says:

    i was reading your article by ann and i am in a simmilar situation, at the covenience store i work at we have a right handed ice scoop, i complained and nothing happened, here a year later we still have that ice scoop but now also have a right handed mop bucket.other people who i work with have agreed with me that they are indeed biased against left hands for these items.

  3. Rachel shaji says:

    Is it offensive if a left handed person places a register on her boss’s table with left hand.

  4. Rachel shaji says:

    Is it offensive if alert handed person places a book on his/her boss’s table with left hand in India.

  5. Christopher Eales says:

    hi Ian 48 when I was at primary school I was forced to write with my right hand as my teacher thought it would be better for me but it wasn’t and I believe it had a detrimental affect on my education has anyone ever got competition for this type of thing

  6. Berta says:

    I am an older woman who, as a young woman, was actually told to my face that if they had known I was left handed the company would not have hired me. I was shocked; I did not realize really how different people thought left handedness was until then; the only other time was when I was in the second grade and learning to write; we had to slant our paper to the right in order to write or so they believed at the time it seemed so I did. I may have had a rougher time writing but because I really did not think about it I turned the paper like the teacher wanted and I was able to write; not like a lot of left handed people, as in Mr. Obama for example which is called back handed writing or it was years ago; I have a left handed sister in law that writes that way and it is even difficult for me to read her writing. The employer that hired me by accident was desperate for an employee so the reason he did not see that I was left handed was because he hired me on the spot and told me to fill out the application the following day when I came in and did all the other paperwork for human resources. He was there and saw me write for himself and I was shocked when he said, “Oh no, you are left handed; if I would have known that I wouldn’t have hired you.” He must have seen the shock on my face because he said he would give me a chance since he had already hired me. There are so many things really made for righties; including the ignition for a car or so I have found. I was denied several jobs before I finally worked up the nerve to ask why when I was 19 and the answer was that everything in the office, or the plant, including any department in the company was set up for right handed people. I thought that was gone when the civil rights act was signed and then more women were hired also; but I suppose there are still people who are stuck in that mindset about left handers. A while back our kitchen faucet broke so to save money my husband and I decided to fix it ourselves; I knew I could do it because of the mother I had that was a young widow and did mostly everyting around a home including rewiring anything that needed it so I knew I could fix it if I put my mind to it. Here is the deal, I bought the part with instructions, etc; I got most of it together when I started having trouble with the last part that would turn it on; I went exactly like the instructions and all of a sudden it came to me to turn the instructions with the diagrams included upside down or backwards; any way that I would be able to get one part on and as soon as I did it the part I was fighting with forever popped right on the faucet and it worked; now here is the only funny thing that we had to get used to; the part I put on at the end decided which way of the one faucet on the sink would I turn it to be hot or cold because it seems I put it on backwards; so now it is on but the hot and cold are on the opposite side that they should be. It does not matter and one day I will take it back off and fix it again since I figured it out. People have laughed at me for years when I tell them I was discriminated against because I was a leftie but I was on many different levels. My oldest sister was forced to become a rightie but really ended up ambidextrous and I did too but not as well as she did. One job I had was to follow some older woman and put these books together but she was a rightie and opened the pages from the right which made it very difficult for me so I set up my own work place; turned all the pages upside down and backwards so I could open them from the left side and slide them into each other and I flew making these books. She went to the office trying to get me in trouble of course but when the boss came down and I showed him that when you flip the book over after it is done everything is correct. She was in shock but I could not do it her way; lefties have to find our own but I have found for the most part that when we do we can outdo a lot of righthanded people. I was with my friends once and we were filling out our time sheets when one of them said; “You make your 8″s backwards and of course highly indignant I said, no I don’t so we all made an 8; oh about 6 of us I suppose and I was the only leftie and I did do it differently then any of them. I grew up using right handed scissors so now I do not even know if I could use left handed ones. There are a lot of things that lefthanded people got discriminated for but most people seem to have a hard time believing it. Sorry I wrote so long but I rarely get to talk about it; there are so many people that feel their own kind of discrimination was worse then anyone’s but all in all if you did not get the job or at least the chance to do it then that discrimination is just as bad.
    I have three grandsons that are lefthanded too now and they do not have any problems or at least not yet. I always kind of thought it was funny when people acted so goofy about being left handed but of course I had just missed being forced by having your knuckles hit with a ruler to become a righthanded person which did happen to some right before I was old enough to start school. Lefties are the only ones in their right minds the saying goes. I do not know about that for sure but I survived and I know in sports they seem pretty popular because we do things differently.
    goood luck to all the lefties; you will figure out your own way.
    Darin I have read your letter and I live pretty close to you so I hope they are not going backwards and maybe some anonymous call should be made just to let them know; isn’t that discrimination; it may sound silly to some but it isn’t to people who are trying to struggle to find their own way and it would surely be simple to fix your problem. More of us need to come out and tell our stories about that type of discrimination and maybe that will help.

    • Berta says:

      Replying to myself; now that is goofy but I forgot one thing I always had a problem with at work anyway and that is when we had to use markers; for some reason I always ended up with ink on my left hand as I wrote it seemed to smear the ink sometimes but only with the big markers or years ago fountain pens if the ink was not dry yet. Oh well, I survived but if there is some way I can help a child who has problems with it I would sure try; just show the things we did; let them know there are plenty of us out there and are in our own special club. I wouldn’t mind volunteering at schools if the teacher is a rightie and show a child how to turn the paper instead of bending their wrist in half to write backhand. Anyone can be righthanded; oh how boring since there are always questions about our own special sorts of differences. It is much more fun to be a little different then to all be alike.

    • Marge Barbush says:

      Oh my yes, I was a new office hire. They knew I was left handed. My first day at my new desk I asked that my computers be set up left handed to my right because I was pressed up to the wall of my cubical. My boss looked at me like I had three heads. Nothing was done about it extension cord were needed. This messed with my speed and made my arm and neck sore. After 5 days my boss said my speed wasn’t up to pare and let me go. Hell my key stroke is about 70 to 80 wpm. But the way my desk was set up I know I wasn’t up to pare. When I stated this again my boss actually told me I was expected to adapt. Id like to see how my now x-boss would adapt to working at a left handed desk.

  7. Darin Murphy says:

    I am a left-handed person and I work for a company in Erlanger, KY as a customer support representative, using a computer all day, that for some strange security reason doesn’t give access to swap the mouse buttons, so I have to use them right-handed or at the very least with the mouse buttons in the right hand fashion, which is very awkward. I have put in a request to have it swapped or to give me access to swap it myself, but after 4 weeks of waiting, I have still not heard anything. I understand that this isn’t that big of a deal, but Windows operating systems has had the swap mouse button feature since Windows 95, so its very frustrating that a company that specializes in customer support would discriminate their employees so. I have worked in the IT industry for almost 20 years now and this is the first time, I’ve ever ran in to such a situation. I hope this isn’t becoming a trend.

    • Marge Barbush says:

      Trust me I recently discovered it is. Had a similar issue with a mouse. Normally I’d just turn the mouse around but it was so stiff and cheaply made that it didn’t work. Also couldn’t get the employer to move the computers to my right side. Had me shoved against the cubical wall on the left.

  8. Ian says:

    I just thought I would let people know about what I hope is a good move from Santander. I visited my local branch (Middlesbrough) at the weekend, and at all counters they have now installed electronic screens for electronic signing – no more paper forms. These screens had been placed on the LEFT of the counter. Absolutely brilliant for me as a left hander having to sign on an electronic screen. Not sure if this is just the way they have been installed in my branch, (perhaps the engineer that installed them was also a lefty?!), or if this is going to be common across all branches. I would be interested to hear from other Santander customers.

  9. Mother Effer says:

    I’ve written to both CNN and the White House appealing to be recognized in some form or fashion within the articles of ADA’s protections for discrimination. Although we as lefties are not ‘disabled’, our society sometimes disables us. We are left to either overcome these obstacles or be limited and paralyzed by an ill-fitted environment.
    I’ve received no communication back from either party. I called for the President who has done so much for minorities to recognize the very minority that is discriminated against the most, of which he himself is a member. The Left-handed. We need to stand up for Equal Lefts, not just Equal Rights. Please join in this conversation by showing the world you are to be heard. Get your own “Kill Righty” t-shirt, coffee mug, etc: http://www.cafepress.com/motherefferstshirtshoppe It’s really just a joke to stir the conversation, so please don’t take offense.

    Thanks,
    ME

  10. Jak Lenton says:

    I’m left handed and it’s hard at times where you have to shoot right-handed in Army cadets, also everyone should realise that the world isnt just right-handed.

    • Susannah says:

      Where do we start with this pervasive discrimination? I got to town to shop and guess what? The parking machine requires coins to be put in by the right hand! Next up I find a dress on a rail I am interested in. To lift it off I will have to use my right hand for ease. If I tolerate this enough and condescend to buy it I will have to either a) write a cheque out in a right handed cheque book or put my card in, with my right hand, and enter my pin, with my right hand.
      What a different world it would be if ‘righties’ had to suffer the same discrimination as ‘lefties’!

  11. sue w says:

    Hi, I’m not left handed but my daughter is. As far as working a “wrong” till – tell your employers that the new till may cause discomfort but you are prepared to do a trial of a week for example. This should be written up as a Health and Safety Risk Assessment. Your situation should be re-assessed after the trial period to see if the work has caused discomfort that would prevent you from working effectively. If things need to alter, a large store should be able to offer you alternative work. After all, they won’t want you going off sick with Repetitive Strain Injury and risk an Employment Tribunal would they? I hope things improve for you soon. Good Luck!

  12. leBenavente says:

    My mother, my sister, my uncle and I were forced to use our right hands. I was the only one who refused such action. Everytime I was alone, I wrote and ate with my left. Today I am ambidextrous and write with both hands, but I always write with my left. I am proud to be lefty and yes…I faced punishment for using “the wrong hand”. I was told that lefties do not go to heaven and the devil is lefty. I feel sick to hear those comment against lefties.

  13. teresab1376 says:

    I don’t know if this new system is going to cause you any additional stain, if so this is a health and safety issue. I too would have written a letter explaining my difficulty in this. Whoever has written this new procedure has obviously never heard of “ergonomics”. Everyone is different and this should be taken into consideration. I would have contacted the Health and Safety Executive (www.hse.gov.uk) or ACAS.CO.UK to find out my position first as I’ve used them before and you can simply phone for some advice.

  14. Alan MG says:

    I remember a case in the United States, about 30 years ago, where a supermarket checkout operator successfully sued the company for forcing them to use right handed checkout equipment constantly and repeatedly all day.

    I don’t know about the legal situation here in Britain, but if someone was dismissed for complaining about it perhaps modern human rights legislation will cover it, and if not in Britain, then at the European Court of Human Rights.

  15. River says:

    Many many quailty points there.

  16. AMS says:

    One idea – explain to your employers that you understand they are attempting to design for efficiency. Explain, respectfully, that you are left handed and ask if you can do a trial where you rearrange your workstation to fit being left handed. Something to the effect, give you 1 month (or something additionally short) — to see if your numbers are as good as the Rightys using the other stations. Good luck!

  17. Gail says:

    As far as the supermarket goes i would write a letter to management stating i was lefthanded and the rules are so rigid that it is going to slow me down and ask for them relax the rules. I would also state that as we are going to auditing us then would they take into to consideration that i am going to be slow as I do things the opposite way around. Also have a word with your union if there is one at the work. DO NOT SAY YOU ARE NOT GOING TO DO IT! Also keep a copy of the letter.

    What will be interesting is the reply from the management once it is in writing … i bet they will relax the rules…. management hate anything being put in writing as it can be used against them in any later dispute. I have never come across a manager that will deny you natural justice … especially if they see a suspected case of discrimination against them!

  18. Swee684 says:

    Hi,
    I think this site is great will be ordering some products very soon!!
    But I have a bit of a gripe too, i have a left-handed nephew which is struggling at at the moment as his teachers are trying to make him write right-handed, instead of encouraging him to hold his pens correctly etc, I find this really annoying as the schools I went to always tried to help!! I don’t know what to do about the situation Please can someone help?????
    I am going to order a couple of sets of the yoropens for myself and so I can send my nephew some to try and help him with his dilemma!!
    any suggestions more than welcome!!!!
    Thanks!!!

    • Gail says:

      I had the same problem at school too.. when i first started primary school the teacher tied my left hand behind my back to force me to write with my right hand. My mother went down to the school and played holy hell with the teachers and headteacher. After the incident with my mother I never encountered anymore problems again at that school.

    • Alan MG says:

      It is , of course difficult for a child to argue with a teacher about this matter, as it can be (perhaps opportunistically by some teachers) seen as disrespect for authority, or it is a difficult uphill struggle for a child to stick up for her or himself in what can be , at the minimum, a paternalistic culture. A child , of course has less experience of life and poorer awareness of their rights and a less than pleasant teacher can exploit this or be corrupted by the power that it gives them.
      There was a major blog on this website several months ago about this problem and its consequences for the wellbeing of the child which can be carried on and into adulthood. The luckiest kids had good , sensible and assertive parents,whose kids could talk to them about their problems and whose parents went to the school and talked to the headmaster and / or the teacher concerned, that this is unacceptable and that action would be taken if it did not stop immediately.

    • Alex Bund says:

      I’m astounded that your son is being made by his teachers to write right-handed. I was fortunate enough to be allowed to write with my left hand at school (and as a result was the first child in my year to learn joined up writing and be given his own fountain pen by the headmaster). I would suggest visiting the school in person and inform them that they do not have the right to dictate how he writes, as long as he learns comfortably. I would begin by writing to the headmaster, informing him/her of the issue and insisting that as the parent, you intend for your son to learn to write in a manner most comfortable to him.

      Fight for your rights (and lefts)

    • Holly says:

      I can’t believe in this day and age that there are TEACHERS of all people that are trying to change a child the right hand writing!! URGH!! Anyway, I wouldn’t get just the writing utensils but the writing mat and the how to form letters booklet. I think there is also a booklet for teachers of left handed children. Do everything possible to help your nephew. What about his parents? Direct them to this site; it might help them understand what your nephew is going thru.

  19. Sherry says:

    I don’t know what your re-course would be but I disagree with the above comments. Yes, I am left-handed and have learned to adapt to the right handed world in most things, but there are some things, occasionally, that are just too awkward to be able to adapt too no matter how hard you try. This is a possible accident waiting to happen as far as I am concerned.

  20. Janet Wilding says:

    In my opinion, it shouldn’t matter how you do your job as long as the job gets done. If the company have a problem with “cack-handedness” then they shouldn’t employ left handers because we are bound to do things back-to-front, upside down or sideways simply because we tend to do things our way to make it easier for us.

  21. SD says:

    If they were making you write with your right hand or making you do something life threatening (i.e. surgery) with your other hand.. then I could understand. I’m a leftie, just let me re-itterate that, but sometimes you just have to be flexible! Even I think it’s a joke to be taking about union reps here!

  22. Wendy Scott says:

    Although this technique is clearly discriminatory, there is nothing in law so the choice as the poster above has said or you can take it above your supervisor to your store manager and even further if need be. Of course, the final destination (if no one is taking you seriously) is a union rep.

  23. SD says:

    Go to work for another supermarket (beginning with S and ending in S) as they have left and right handed tills. Or just get used to using your right hand, like the rest of us lefties sometimes have to do. Sometimes it’s good to do something different. Just remember that you’ll have the upper hand then (so to speak) as you can then do it with either!

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