Mr Gerard Cahill worked for Arravasc from October 2014, a company involved in the design and marketing of medical devices. Mr Cahill obtained this position through an agency, Cregg Labour Solutions, and was employed on a week-to-week contract.
On 17 July 2015, he suffered a heart attack at home and, as a result indicated to Arravasc that it would be 4-6 weeks before he would recover. Arravasc advised that it was difficult for them to sustain long term absences.
On 9 September 2015, Cregg Labour Solutions wrote to Arravasc and asked that they terminate Mr Cahill's contract. Arravasc confirmed that they would and 2 days later they dismissed him.
Mr Cahill made a complaint to the Work Place Relations Committee (WRC) against both Arravasc and the agency, alleging that he was dismissed because of a disability, contrary to Section 8 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (the ''Acts''). Section 16(3) of the Acts states that if it is apparent that an employee is not fully capable, the employer should consider what special treatment or facilities may be available, to enable to the employee to become fully capable.
The agency, Cregg Labour Solutions, argued that Mr Cahill's heart attack was not a disability but rather a 'once off event'.
The end-user Arravasc, did not contend that Mr Cahill did not have a disability, but stated that Cregg Labour Solutions had made the decision to dismiss Mr Cahill and they were therefore solely responsible for the alleged discrimination and argued that it had no control over how the agency terminated Mr Cahill’s employment.
At first instance Mr Cahill's claim against the Cregg Labour Solutions failed. However, his claim against Arravasc was successful and he was awarded €42,640. The WRC found that Arravasc had 'failed in its duty' as an employer and 'substantially and materially contributed to the circumstances which brought about the termination of the employment with the agency'.
Mr Cahill successfully appealed the decision regarding the agency. The Labour Court held that Mr Cahill's condition did amount to a disability and the agency had not adequately considered all available options to them. Furthermore, they held that Cregg Labour Solutions had a statutory liability for any discrimination found to have occurred. The Labour Court awarded compensation in the sum of €15,000, against the agency.
Arravasc also appealed the decision. They were unsuccessful in their appeal, as the Labour Court held that they could not avoid liability by simply shifting blame onto the agency for the termination. However the award against them was varied by the Labour Court from €42,620 to €27,000.
The two appeals in the Labour Court help to demonstrate the failings of both parties when providing reasonable accommodation for an agency worker. The Labour Court also provided commentary regarding the much disputed definition of disability, under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015.
This case serves as a stark reminder of the obligations that apply in relation to agency workers. Agency workers must be treated equally by employers and both an agency and an end-user are expected to consider whether reasonable accommodation can be offered before taking steps to terminate a contract of employment.