The Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 oblige employers to make reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.
What is ‘Reasonable Accommodation’?
‘Reasonable accommodation’ is where an employer makes a change to the tasks and structure of a job, or makes changes to the workplace environment to enable an employee to:
- have equal opportunities when applying for work;
- be treated the same as co-workers;
- have equal opportunities for promotion;
- undertake training.
Employers must also make accommodations to enable people with disabilities to return to work having acquired a disability, as well as to participate in the job application process and enjoy benefits and privileges accorded to other employees.
If you have to make changes to the workplace or work practices to accommodate a disabled employee, the demands should be ‘reasonable’ and should not impose a ‘disproportionate burden’ on you. In other words, the changes and the costs should be realistic for the business to bear depending on several factors:
- the nature and cost of the accommodation requested;
- the overall financial resources of the employer and the number of employees;
- the impact of the accommodation on the operations of the business.
Under equality legislation, you as an employer are not obliged to provide special treatment or facilities if the cost of doing so is excessive or disproportionate.
Employers must consider possible sources of funding, such as supports and grants provided by the Department of Employment Affairs & Social Protection when assessing the cost of a particular accommodation.
Rather than assuming that the costs will be high, it is critical to establish what accommodations are needed, as not all supports require financial outlay. Research shows that most accommodations cost nothing and involve task adjustments.
The Labour Court has summarised the nature of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation as follows: -
“The provision of special treatment or facilities is not an end in itself. It is a means to an end and that end is achieved when the person with a disability is placed in a position where they can have access to, or as the case may be, participate in or advance in employment or to undergo training. This can involve affording the person with a disability more favourable treatment than would be awarded to an employee without a disability. Thus, it may be necessary to consider such matters as adjusting the person’s attendance hours or to allow them to work partially from home. The duty to provide special treatment may also involve relieving a disabled employee of the requirement to undertake certain tasks which others doing similar work are expected to perform. The scope of the duty is determined by what is reasonable, which includes consideration of the costs involved. This is an objective test which must have regard to all the circumstances of the particular case.”