Human rights commission intervenes in reasonable accommodations in the workplace case

Human rights commission intervenes in reasonable accommodations in the workplace case

Emily Logan

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (IHREC) has appeared before the Supreme Court to exercise its amicus curiae function in a significant case on the rights of persons with disabilities to have reasonable accommodations made in the workplace.

The Commission is appearing as amicus curiae in this case as the Supreme Court’s interpretation of the reasonable accommodation obligations of employers under the Employment Equality Acts (EEA) will have implications for all people with disabilities in work or seeking employment.

The case of Marie Daly v Nano Nagle School centres on Marie Daly, a special needs assistant (SNA) who had worked for the Nano Nagle School for children with learning and/or physical disabilities since 1998. In 2010, she had an accident and, after a period of rehabilitation, in 2011 she sought to return to work.

Following a review, the School Board concluded that Ms Daly did not have the capacity to undertake the full set of duties associated with a SNA, and nor would she in the future, and so decided not to permit her to return to work.

Ms Daly made a complaint to the former Equality Tribunal (now the Workplace Relations Commission) on the basis that the school had failed to provide appropriate measures to accommodate her, as a person with a disability, to return to work contrary to section 16 of the EEA. The case has proceeded by appeal through the courts and is now being heard before the Supreme Court.

In its submissions to the Supreme Court published today, the Commission has argued that the provision of reasonable accommodation in the workplace must be interpreted in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) and EU law.

The Commission has argued that such an interpretation means that reasonable accommodation can include reorganisation of work or the distribution of tasks which results in the modification of an employee’s job description and that an employer should consult with an employee before making decisions about reasonable accommodation. The Commission has also called on the court to take into account the close connection between work and the dignity and freedom of the person, where 2016 Census figures show 22 per cent of people with disabilities were employed in Ireland.

Chief commissioner Emily Logan said: “The outcome of this case has broad and significant implications for the rights of people with disabilities who are in work or job hunting. A clear understanding of the positive duties on employers to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace is vital to enable access to employment.

“The Commission has argued before the Supreme Court that there is an obligation on the State to interpret the reasonable accommodation duty in line with both the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by Ireland last year, and with EU law.”

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