The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has appeared before the Supreme Court to exercise its amicus curiae function in a significant case on the rights of persons with disabilities to have reasonable accommodations made in the workplace.
The case concerns the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the reasonable accommodation obligations of employers under the Employment Equality Acts.
Under the law, an employer is obliged to take appropriate measures to enable a person who has a disability to have access to employment; to participate or advance in employment; or to undertake training unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.
The case of Marie Daly v. Nano Nagle School centres on Marie Daly, a special needs assistant (SNA) who had worked for the Nano Nagle School for children with learning and/or physical disabilities since 1998. In 2010, she had an accident and after a period of rehabilitation sought to return to work in 2011.
Following a review, the school board concluded that Marie Daly did not have the capacity to undertake the full set of duties associated with a SNA, and nor would she in the future, and so decided not to permit her to return to work.
Nine out of the sixteen tasks
A report by an occupational therapy assessor stated that Marie Daly could only undertake, wholly or partly, nine out of the sixteen tasks required of a SNA.
Daly made a complaint to the former Equality Tribunal (now the Workplace Relations Commission) on the basis that the school had failed to provide appropriate measures to accommodate her, as a person with a disability, to return to work contrary to section 16 of the EEA.
The Court of Appeal found that section 16 does not obligate the creation of a new role for a disabled employee where an employee can no longer carry out tasks fundamental to their role.
IHREC argued before the Supreme Court that the provision of reasonable accommodation in the workplace must be interpreted in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and EU law.
The Commission argued that reasonable accommodation can include reorganisation of work or the distribution of tasks which results in the modification of an employee’s job description.
Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the IHREC said “The outcome of this case has broad and significant implications for the rights of people with disabilities who are in work or job hunting. A clear understanding of the positive duties on employers to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace is vital to enable access to employment.”