The Labour Court recently awarded an employee €40,000 due to her employer’s failure to provide her with reasonable accommodation to enable her to return to work following an accident.

The Complainant was employed as a special needs assistant and a part-time secretary in a school.  Following an accident in 2010, the Complainant became paralysed from the waist down.  She sought to return to work in or around January 2011. However her employer, having commissioned a risk assessment, decided that she lacked the capacity to fully undertake the duties of the role and declined her request.  

The employer submitted that it had relied on a risk assessment report prepared by an occupational health consultant which declared the Complainant medically unfit to perform all of the duties of a special needs assistant.  However, it subsequently transpired that the consultant felt compelled to reach such a conclusion after the school’s principal had informed him that the school was not prepared to provide the accommodation necessary to allow the Complainant to return to work.  

The Labour Court stated that the employer in this case had failed to give full and adequate consideration to all the options available to it as it failed to consider adjusting the Complainant’s duties for a trial period. The employer also failed to consult the Complainant on such options and gave no consideration to the possibility of offering her a return to her secretarial role.

Accordingly, the Court held that the employer failed to discharge its duty to provide the Complainant with reasonable accommodation to allow her to return to work and awarded the Complainant €40,000 by way of compensation.

Employers should fully consider all options in assessing whether it can accommodate the return to work of an employee with a disability. Employers are not bound to retain an individual who is not capable of performing the duties for which he/she was employed. However, employers are advised, where necessary, to look beyond the physical accommodations which may be made and consider whether a change in duties is possible. Employers are also advised to consult with the employee on the options available.