Under the Employment Equality Act, a person who has a disability is considered fully competent and capable of carrying out normal duties if reasonable accommodation is provided by the business. The employee with a disability should have access to employment, be able to advance in their employment and undergo training.
Reasonable measures could include some of the following depending on the type and size of the business as well as the nature of the employment role:
- Adaptation of the premises and equipment
- A change in working hours
- A change in duties
- Specialised equipment
- Redistribution of some tasks
However, if the reasonable accommodation imposes a disproportionate burden on the business, they would need to objectively state this based upon a full assessment of viable options. If the measures are too burdensome, account shall be taken of the following:
- The financial and other costs involved
- The scale and financial resources of the employer’s business
- The possibility of obtaining public funding or other assistance
In a recent adjudication case, a nurse took a claim under the Employment Equality Act on the grounds that her employer did not offer reasonable accommodation in light of her disability.
The complainant was a psychiatric nurse who had worked in the community for 13 years. A redeployment of her role along with three other nurses was due to take place after consultation with their union. The complainant outlined her concerns in relation to this change, citing that it would cause too much stress and impact her disability. In addition, the complainant suffered a “Transient Ischemic Attack” (TIA) when the left side of her body went limp and she was unable to speak. As a result of this attack and the stress in the workplace, her GP stated she was unfit for work.
When the complainant returned to work she was still asked to work in different locations dealing with challenging patients and she felt she could not deal with the manual handling of patients alone. She requested another location, but this would require her to work alone at night and her employer deemed this as a safety risk in light of her disability, so her request was refused. Instead they offered her the opportunity to work in a Resource Centre whereby other colleagues were close on hand to assist the complainant with heavy lifting and other supports. It did mean that the complainant would lose out on shift premiums and night work and she subsequently refused this role. The complainant argued that she was left with no option but to retire early and that her employer had not reasonably accommodate her disabilities.
Having reviewed both sides of the argument, the adjudicator found in favour of the employer as the complainant had been "reasonably accommodated by the Respondent" when her employer offered her the Resource Centre role. It was deemed the most viable option in light of her disabilities, however, the complainant had "declined the offer to work in this centre".
Key takeaways you can learn from this case
- The employer considered all viable options in assessing what was the best alternative location for the employee
- The employer based their reports on the latest medical advice and repeatedly sent the employee to their own occupational health specialist to assess their fitness to work
- They met with the employee and heard their concerns and did their best to accommodate the employee’s disability offering what was the best option for them in light of their disability whilst balancing this against any safety risks
If you have a concern about reasonable accommodation for an employee with a disability you can contact Helen at SFA on 01 605 1668 or at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit our HR and employment law advice section on www.sfa.ie