The Equality Tribunal recently held that an employer failed in its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with MS when it changed her role without adequate consultation and consideration.

The employee commenced employment in 1978. In 2006, she was diagnosed with MS. Following a number of periods of sick leave in 2012 and 2013, her employer moved her to a new department.

The employee claimed that she found the new role to be boring and degrading and stated that there were no responsibilities attaching to the role. The employer maintained that the move involved no decrease in the employee’s remuneration and no detriment to her conditions of employment. It claimed that the move was “reasonable and effective” as it removed the employee from the stress of imbalanced workloads.

The employee referred a claim of discrimination to the Equality Tribunal in April 2013.

The Tribunal emphasised that an employer must be proactive in considering how to accommodate an employee with a disability. It stated that the employer must carry out a full assessment of the needs of the employee and must consult with the employee throughout the process. According to the Tribunal, the employer must become fully aware of the needs of the employee and what is required by way of occupational or medical assessment.

In this case, the Tribunal held that the employer did not carry out a thorough assessment in relation to the needs of the employee. The Tribunal stated that instead of carrying out a risk assessment of the job and duties based on the employee’s illness, that management simply moved her to a different department. Crucially, the decision to move the employee was made in the absence of any medical evidence and was based on an assumption by her manager. Furthermore, the employee was not allowed a full opportunity to participate in the process.

The Tribunal ordered that the employer reinstate the employee to her former position and awarded her €20,000 in compensation.

This case highlights that in order to comply with its obligations under the Employment Equality Acts, an employer must be proactive in assessing how it can accommodate an employee with a disability. An employer must fully consider all options available to it, consult with the employee throughout the process and, crucially, ensure that any decisions are based upon appropriate medical advice.