The Supreme Court has confirmed that employers have a duty to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ for employees with a disability. In other words, they must make reasonable adjustments to the workplace, work organisation or equipment to ensure that staff members with disabilities can continue to work.
Fórsa welcomed the ruling, in which the Supreme Court set aside the decision of the Court of Appeal in a specific case, and referred it back to the Labour Court for determination.
The court also provided clarification on how the law in relation to reasonable accommodation should be applied, saying employers’ duty to provide reasonable accommodation should be ascribed a broad ambit.
In particular, it said that the primary obligation of an employer is to take appropriate measures, where required, to enable the employee to continue in employment. That duty includes an obligation to consider relieving the employee of duties they cannot perform, with the extent of this being assessed in each case by an adjudication officer with appeal to the Labour Court.
The court said that the duty to provide reasonable accommodation does not extend to an obligation to create an entirely new job, but said a reorganised job is not necessarily a new job.
It also said a “wise employer” would consult with their employee before making decisions about their future employment, though this was not a legal requirement.
It noted that making reasonable accommodation should not impose a disproportionate financial or other burden on the employer, but said this should take account of available State supports.
Fórsa official Billy Hannigan said the decision brought clarity to the application of the law. “The fact that the emphasis in any case will be on the individual circumstances of each person is a positive result, and a win for the union and for the rights of people with disabilities in the workplace,” he said.
Billy also welcomed Justice Peter Charleton’s statement that it’s not “particularly useful to see disability as medical in nature. A person with a disability remains a person, an individual with human dignity who is required to be treated as such.”