The Labour Court recently awarded €13,500 to a claimant for discrimination on the grounds of disability, discriminatory dismissal and failure to provide reasonable accommodation.
The case reiterates the need for employers to be aware of substantial protection which employees have under Irish employment equality laws when planning changes to the terms and conditions of employment or the continued employment of a long term ill or disabled employee.
The decision is a timely reminder of the extensive scope of the obligations on employers in these situations as set out inHumphries –v- Westwood Fitness Club  ELR 296:
- Examine the factual position and seek clear medical guidance regarding the employee's capability including the degree of impairment arising from the disability and its likely duration; and
- Consider what, reasonable accommodation or appropriate measures (including any special treatment or facilities) can be made available by which the employee may become fully competent to perform his or her role; and;
- Consult with the employee along the way to ensure that the employee has a say in any decisions which could adversely impact their terms and conditions of employment or which could lead to the termination of employment;
- Document the entire process so that it is clear what has been examined and considered by the employer and what the response of the employee is before any decision is made regarding the employee.
Facts of the Case
The claimant worked as a charge hand in a meat production business. She suffered a serious back injury in 2009 and was absent from work for a number of years. In 2011 her solicitor wrote to the employer indicating that the employee was fit for work but was restricted from handling heavy loads or engaging in jerky movements.
In mid-2012, the employer had her medically examined by their own doctor and noted that she was "unfit to return to work at this current time" as she was unable to work where it involved manual handling and heavy loads.
The employer misinterpreted this to mean that the claimant would never be able to do the work she had previously carried out for the company. As the company had no alternative roles which the claimant could do, it dismissed her on the grounds of disability in that it stated that she was not fit to perform her role and it could no longer keep her job open. The claimant appealed against the decision of the Adjudication Officer.
The decision of the Labour Court
- The court found that the employer had discriminated against the employee and awarded €13,500 as compensation. It applied the test adopted in the Humphries case (as noted above) and it found that the employer had not satisfied itself as to the full extent of the claimant's medical condition.
- Further, it misinterpreted the medical evidence that she was ”not fit at this time” to mean she would never be fit again to do the work that she had been hired to do.
- The court found that the employer did not give her fair notice that her dismissal for incapacity was being considered.
- The court concluded that the employer was overly focused on her incapacity as opposed to her capacity and did not give consideration to what reasonable accommodation could be made.
The Court found that the employer had failed to discharge the burden of proof that it had not discriminated against the employee on the grounds of her disability.
* A Meat Company v A Worker (EDA 1628)