The Court of Appeal recently overturned the decision of the High Court in the case of Nano Nagle School v Daly. In its judgement, the High Court had endorsed the decision of the Labour Court to award Ms Daly €40,000 in compensation for a failure on the part of her employer to reasonably accommodate her disability. Under section 16 of the Employment Equality Act, 1998-2015 (the “Employment Equality Acts”), an employer is required to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability, if by doing so the employee can become fully capable of carrying out the duties that make up their role.
Ms Daly was employed as a special needs assistant (“SNA”) and part-time secretary in the Nano Nagle School. She was involved in an accident which left her paralysed from the waist down. An occupational therapist carried out an assessment and identified that Ms Daly was able to carry out, wholly or partly, nine out of sixteen categories of duties required of her. The occupational therapist suggested that a redistribution of duties amongst the other SNAs could facilitate a return to work for Ms Daly.
Despite this, the school determined that Ms Daly was not fit to carry out the full range of her duties and dismissed her. Ms Daly brought a claim under the Employment Equality Acts against the school, on the basis that it had not taken appropriate measures to accommodate her. The Equality Tribunal found in favour the school, but this was overturned by the Labour Court on appeal.
The Labour Court determined that the school had a duty to fully consider the viability of a reorganisation of work and a redistribution of tasks among all of the SNAs so as to relieve Ms. Daly of those duties that she was unable to perform. The Labour Court found that the school failed to engage with its duty to consider whether or not Ms. Daly could reasonably be accommodated by the implementation of appropriate measures and awarded Ms Daly €40,000 in compensation.
The school appealed the decision to the High Court. In dismissing the appeal, the High Court agreed with the Labour Court in finding that the school did not properly consider the redistribution of Ms Daly’s tasks.
The case was appealed by the school to the Court of Appeal where it was found that the process based approach taken by the Labour Court, and endorsed by the High Court, was incorrect. The Court of Appeal rejected the proposition that there is a:
“Freestanding obligation on an employer to carry out an evaluation, irrespective of the other circumstances of the case and without regard to the fundamental question as to whether the employee is actually capable of doing the job.”
The Court of Appeal advocated a practical approach whereby an employer, who has clearly established the facts of the employee’s disability, is entitled to look at the reality of the situation and what the employee can and cannot do. The Court rejected the Labour Court’s position that “a failure to adequately consider all available options on how a disabled person can be accommodated can amount to a failure to discharge the duty to provide reasonable accommodation”.
The Court found that:
“If no reasonable adjustments can be made for a disabled employee, the employer is not liable for failing to consider the matter or for not consulting. It is not a matter of review of process but of practical compliance.”
As of yet, the decision has not been appealed to the Supreme Court.