The Irish Supreme Court has held that reasonable accommodation of people with disabilities in the workplace must involve consideration of proportionate redistribution of any task or duty.
The case was taken by Marie Daly, a Special Needs Assistant (SNA) with Nano Nagle School since 1998. Following a car accident in 2010, Ms Daly was paralysed from the waist down and required use of a wheelchair. Ms Daly sought to return to work in 2011, however this was refused when it was assessed that she could not at that time, or in the future, undertake all the physical duties expected of an SNA. In the assessment 16 duties were identified, of which Ms. Daly could wholly or partly perform 9.
Ms. Daly made a complaint to the Equality Tribunal (now the Workplace Relations Commission) on the basis that the School had discriminated against her by failing to provide appropriate measures to accommodate her to return to work under Section 16 of the Employment Equality Acts. The School sought to rely on the same Section which provides that an individual does not have to be retained where they can no longer undertake the duties attached to their position or where reasonable accommodation would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.
In the Supreme Court, delivering the four-to-one majority judgment, Mr Justice McMenamin distinguished between the duties attached to a particular role, and the tasks that may be redistributed to allow for reasonable accommodation. Judge McMenamin interpreted appropriate measures as “effective and practical” measures which included the possibility of ‘distribution of tasks’ under Section 16. According to Judge McMenamin, “it could not have been the intention of the legislature to create a situation where, by deploying the term “tasks” to divide up the term “duties”, an employer could effectively render an employee’s duty incapable of performance. That would defeat the purpose of the Act, which is to achieve equality.”
Judge McMenamin acknowledged that the duty of accommodation was not infinite. The question was whether what is required to allow a person remain in employment is reasonable accommodation in the job, or whether in fact it is the creation of an entirely different job. The test to be applied is one of fact, and one of reasonableness and proportionality. The judgment went on to suggest that meaningful participation with the person seeking the reasonable accommodation and other employees was wise, but not mandatory.
The Court also found that when the Labour Court awarded Ms Daly €40,000 in compensation, it had failed to fulfil its statutory duty as it did not record or evaluate significant and relevant evidence presented to it. This included evidence from an Occupational Therapist that Ms Daly was unable to perform core functions of her job, which could not be reorganised to accommodate her.
The Court therefore returned the case to the Labour Court to determine whether Ms Daly can return to her position with reasonable accommodation.
Click here for the decision in Nano Nagle School v Daly.