Reasonable Accommodation in the workplace – view from the Supreme CourtFriday, 04 October 2019
The Supreme Court recently released its judgement in Nano Nagle School v Marie Daly, which is the fifth instalment in this case.
The Supreme Court examined the extent of the obligation on employers, under Irish Employment Equality legislation, to put in place “appropriate measures” to adapt a place of work to reasonably accommodate disabled employees.
In allowing Ms. Daly's appeal, the Supreme Court made the following findings:
Redistribution of tasks/duties
The Court rejected the view of the Court of Appeal that the obligation to reasonably accommodate could not involve the redistribution, to other staff, of tasks which are essential to a position. The Court stated that “it is hard to see [that] there would be any policy or common good reason why simply the distribution of tasks, or their removal, should be confined only to those which are non-essential.”
The Court went on to state that employers must be able to demonstrate, objectively, that they have given the question of redistribution full consideration.
Consultation with the employee
The Court stated that there is no mandatory duty to consult with an employee in each and every case where reasonable accommodation is being considered. However, it went on to issue a word of warning to employers stating that a wise employer would provide for “meaningful participation" with the employee in order to demonstrate their compliance with their obligations to consider what appropriate measures might accommodate the employee.
The Court found that while still complying with its duties to consider redistribution and accommodations, it would still be possible for an employer to find that the degree of redistribution or accommodation would be disproportionate and “impose a disproportionate burden on an employer”.
Back to the Labour Court
The Supreme Court found that the Labour Court had failed to consider crucial oral evidence given at hearing and had provided no basis for its decision to award Ms. Daly €40,000 in compensation. In doing so the Court remitted the case to the Labour Court for further consideration.
Lessons for employers
While the decision of the Court of Appeal in this case appeared to limit the obligations on employers to examine potential options of redistribution or accommodation, where it was clear that the employee could not fulfil the role, the Supreme Court has reverted to a stricter interpretation of employer obligations and confirmed that the requirement to fully consider the potential to redistribute a disabled employee’s duties is mandatory.