disabled

As redress for infringement of her statutory rights and breaches of the Employment Equality Acts, former employee of a Multi-National Retailer receives compensation in the amount of €30,000.

The Director of the Equality Tribunal delegated this case to Orlaith Mannion, Equality Officer on 13th August 2013.

The specific case concerned a claim by Ms. H against her employer, a Multi-National Retailer. Ms. H claimed that she was discriminated against on the grounds of disability in terms 6(2)(g) of the Employment  Equality Acts 1998-2011. The claimant stated that her employer failed to provide appropriate measures to allow her to continue to be employed in her original role with the retailer.

The claimant had worked on the customer service desk for 30 years and enjoyed her position there. In 2001 Ms. H had an operation to remove her colon and, after that, had some medical issues including episodes of diarrhoea. A few years after this operation, Ms. H once again had surgery- this time on her knees as a result of osteoarthritis and had issues with the toilet facilities in her place of work after this as the one suitable toilet in the store was upstairs. One toilet located on Ms. H’s floor required that she walk across the shopping centre to access it. This toilet did not offer a huge improvement for Ms. H as she had to hoist herself up and down onto the toilet by gripping the doorframe.

When the store was being revamped, the claimant suggested that her employer take the opportunity to install a toilet for people with disabilities- customers and employees alike. No disabled toilet was installed and Ms. H said she heard many excuses for this throughout her service with her employer.

Ms. H claimed that in 2009 she was informed that a disabled toilet was due to be installed. Ms. H went on holidays shortly after hearing this news and, unfortunately, broke her leg while away. Ms. H was a wheelchair user for a period of 6 months and underwent more surgeries in January and July 2010. When she was back on her feet Ms. H wanted to return to work and was medically certified as fit to do so in July 2011. Ms. H’s doctor made some recommendations that would allow Ms. H to return to work-

The doctor recommended that Ms. H should return on a phased basis, that she should be able to sit for periods during her working day and that she have access to a disabled toilet.

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The employer responded stating that the claimant returning on a phased basis would be facilitated. However, they were not able to fulfil the other recommendations of the doctor. According to the store management, Ms. H’s role (behind the kiosk) had changed during her absence and, although a chair had been available there previously, the store was no longer able to facilitate a chair behind the kiosk and therefore they could offer her a role at the checkout when she returned to work instead of Ms. H returning to her previous role. A checkout role would not have been practical for Ms. H to take as she would have been required to lift heavy grocery items and this was something that she was not able to do (and had not been required to do as part of her Customer Service role).

Also, according to the management, because the store revamp had been suspended, so too had the provision of a disabled toilet. However, the respondent did offer the claimant extra time to use the shopping centre’s disabled toilet and the management of the store felt as though this was reasonable.

Ms. H felt that the checkout role was unsuitable and would have been a demotion. She also felt that the toilet scenario was unacceptable as there was often queues at this toilet and her condition did not allow for her to wait in queues for long periods. Ms. H raised a formal grievance which was heard in August 2011. The complaint was not upheld and neither was Ms. H’s appeal. Ms. H felt that her employer ignored her disabilities since her surgeries in 2005 and felt as though her employer had failed in their duty of care to her.

The respondent refuted any claims of discrimination and claimed that the employee had been out of work for a much longer period than the doctor had originally advised (6-9 months). More than one year after Ms. H broke her leg on holidays she attended a return to work meeting and the respondent pointed out that Ms. H was outside of her support period and recommended that she attend the company doctor. Ms. H did so the following month and the Occupational Health Advisor recommended that she return to work on a phased basis in approximately 3 months’ time. The Health Advisor also recommended that a risk assessment should take place and anything like slippy or uneven floors should be attended to in order that another fall was prevented.

The respondent was satisfied for Ms. H to return when recommended by the Occupational Health Advisor (in approximately 3 months). However, as the Customer Service desk role had changed in the two years that Ms. H had been absent from work and (for various reasons e.g. lack of space) no chair was situated there any longer, the respondent was not especially fit for that particular role any longer. Ms. H and her doctor felt that the checkout operator role was not a valid alternative.

The Equality Officer found that Ms. H had been discriminated against by her employer. While her doctor’s request for her to return to work on a phased basis had been upheld, other notable recommendations were not fully adhered to.

Ms. H was supposed to be allowed to sit for periods during the working shift- the customer service role would not have allowed for this and, while the checkout operator role allowed her to sit, it required lifting of heavy groceries. The Equality Officer found that providing a reasonable disabled toilet for Ms. H would have cost the respondent approximately €22,600.00 and this would not have imposed a burden on a company that, in 2013, reported revenue in Ireland as £2,315 million Sterling.

The employer did not show genuine engagement with the process of finding effective and practical measures to allow the claimant to return to work.

Therefore, the Equality Officer found in favour of the claimant.

In accordance with Section 82 of the Act, she ordered the respondent:

(a) pay the complainant €30,000 (the approximate equivalent of a year’s salary) in compensation for breaches of the Employment Equality Acts. The award is redress for the infringement of Ms H’s statutory rights and, therefore, not subject to income tax as per Section 192A of the Taxes Consolidation Act 1997 (as amended by Section 7 of the Finance Act 2004).

(b) conduct a review of its employment policies and procedures to ensure that they are in compliance with these Acts with particular reference to how employees with disabilities are treated.

http://www.workplacerelations.ie/en/Cases/2014/April/DEC-E2014-030.html

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