Supreme Court Significantly Clarifies Rights of Persons with Disabilities to Reasonable Workplace Accommodation

Commission Welcomes Decision Having Exercised Amicus Function in Landmark Daly v. Nano Nagle Case

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (‘the Commission’) has welcomed today’s important Supreme Court ruling on the rights of persons with disabilities to have reasonable accommodation made in workplaces as set out in legislation.

The Supreme Court judgment, delivered this morning by Mr. Justice John MacMenamin in Daly v. Nano Nagle:

  • Reverses the previous decision of the Court of Appeal by setting out that reasonable accommodation can involve a redistribution of any task or duty in a job, as long as not disproportionate in the context of the employment in question. The Supreme Court points to an approach that looks at the individual’s employment in the round by considering it within the wider context of its relationship to fellow workers and the workplace.
  • Sets out an expectation of consultation of employees on reasonable accommodation. The ruling states that, while not mandatory, “a wise employer will provide meaningful participation” not only with the person seeking reasonable accommodation but also with other employees in relation to the role.
  • Focuses on the dignity of the person and the centrality of the State’s obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (UNCRPD) ratified by Ireland in 2018.

In his judgment Mr. Justice Peter Charleton states that it is 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.”

He also states that:

“the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, ratified by both the State and the EU, is part of the necessary backdrop to this appeal…State parties to the Convention have an obligation under [Article Number 27 of the Convention] to ‘safeguard and promote the realisation of the right to work, including for those who acquire a disability during the course of employment’ through measures such as reasonable accommodation and prohibition of discrimination.”

This case centres on Marie Daly, a Special Needs Assistant (‘SNA’), who had worked at the Nano Nagle School for children with mild to profound learning disabilities since 1998. In 2010, she had a serious accident, following which she was paralysed and has used a wheelchair. After a period of extensive 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 an 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 proceeded by appeal through the courts to the Supreme Court.

In its legal submissions to the Supreme Court, the Commission argued that, in addition to existing legislation, the provision of reasonable accommodation in the workplace must be interpreted in accordance with Ireland’s obligations under the newly ratified United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (‘CRPD’) and EU law.

The Commission also argued that reasonable accommodation can include reorganisation of work or the distribution of tasks. It further argued that an employer should consult with an employee before making decisions about reasonable accommodation.

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission, stated:

Today’s Supreme Court ruling is progressive and will have a significant impact for Marie Daly and the many other people with disabilities across Ireland, whether remaining in work or seeking access to employment.

The Commission, in our involvement in this case as amicus curiae, emphasised the connection between work and the dignity and freedom of the person, and the Supreme Court has today recognised the right of persons with a disability to be treated with respect for their inherent dignity .

“For employers, recruiters, people who are job hunting, and those already in employment this ruling brings significant clarity and a shared understanding of the positive duties to provide reasonable accommodations for people with disabilities in the workplace.”

ENDS/

For further information, please contact:

Brian Dawson, IHREC Communications Manager,

01 8589601 / 087 0697095

bdawson@ihrec.ie

Follow us on twitter @_IHREC

Editor’s Note

The Supreme Court ruling was delivered by O’Donnell J. MacMenamin J. Dunne J. Charleton J and O’Malley J.

The legal submissions made by the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission in this case are available at the following links:

Submissions dated – 25th October 2018

Submissions dated – 4th December 2018

Submissions dated – 6th December 2018

 

Audio

Emily Logan, Chief Commissioner, on RTE Drivetime, discussing the Marie Daly Supreme Court decision, 31 July 2019.

 

Reasonable Accommodation

Under the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (EEA) an employer is obliged to take appropriate measures to enable a person who has a disability: to have access to employment; to participate or advance in employment; or to undertake training unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.

Appropriate measures are effective and practical measures to adapt the employer’s place of business including: the adaption of premises and equipment; patterns of working time; distribution of tasks; or the provision of training or integration resources.

The amicus curiae function of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Commission’s functions under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act 2014 include that of applying for liberty to appear as an amicus curiae (friend of the court) before the superior courts in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person.

Section 10 of the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act sets out the functions of the Commission and Section 10(2)(e) provides that the IHREC shall have a function:

“to apply to the High Court or the Supreme Court for liberty to appear before the High Court or the Supreme Court, as the case may be, as amicus curiae in proceedings before that Court that involve or are concerned with the human rights or equality rights of any person and to appear as such an amicus curiae on foot of such liberty being granted (which liberty each of the said courts is hereby empowered to grant in its absolute discretion).”

Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is an independent public body, appointed by the President and directly accountable to the Oireachtas. The Commission has a statutory remit set out under the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission Act (2014) to protect and promote human rights and equality in Ireland, and build a culture of respect for human rights, equality and intercultural understanding in the State.

The Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission is Ireland’s national human rights institution and is recognised as such by the United Nations. The Commission is also Ireland’s national equality body for the purpose of a range of EU anti-discrimination measures.

 

 

 

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