Irish Court of Appeal clarifies duty to reasonably accommodate an employee with a disability

The Court of Appeal has overturned a High Court judgement which saw Ms Marie Daly, a Special Needs Assistant, granted €40,000 in compensation after her employer, Nano Nagle Special National School, was deemed to have failed to accommodate her in her role after she was involved in a car accident which left her permanently requiring a wheelchair.

When Ms Daly sought to return to work, the school informed her that they would not be able to facilitate her in her position as an SNA due to the physical nature of the job, attesting that she would no longer be able to perform many of her duties due to her condition.

Ms. Daly lodged a complaint to the Equality Tribunal under the Employment Equality Acts (EEA) 1998-2011, claiming that the school had failed to provide appropriate measures to enable her to return to work. She was unsuccessful in front of the Equality Tribunal but following an appeal to the Labour Court, she was awarded damages. The school appealed this outcome to the High Court which upheld the decision.

Under Section 16 of the EEA, an employer shall take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a person who has a disability to have access to employment, to participate and advance in employment and to undergo training, unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.

In the aftermath of the accident, Ms Daly underwent several examinations by occupational health physicians who determined that she was not capable of performing almost half of the tasks that would be required of her as an SNA. Both the Labour Court and the High Court found the school to be in breach of S.16 of the EEA, as it had failed to look into whether or not the work which Ms Daly could no longer undertake could be reorganised, so as to confine her to performing those tasks that she was physically able to perform safely, while distributing those tasks that she could not undertake amongst the other SNAs in the school.

The school subsequently appealed to the Court of Appeal, which held that it had in fact not failed to comply with its statutory duty under the EEA. The Court found that Ms Daly could not participate in many crucial tasks as would be required by an SNA regardless of whether or not any adjustments to the nature of the role is made.

It stated that an employer was not obliged to change the responsibilities of a position which a disabled employee can no longer perform so as to accommodate that employee if these tasks are crucial to the employee’s position. The Court ruled that if no reasonable adjustments can be made for a disabled employee, the employer is not liable for failing to consider the matter and therefore the school was judged to not have been in breach of the EEA.

Click here for full Court of Appeal judgement.





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