Small primary school wins reasonable accommodation case brought by teacher

Employers are obliged to provide reasonable accommodation for employees with a disability. This can create difficulties for small employers.

A recent case at the Workplace Relations Commission involving a small primary school is a good example of the difficulties that can arise.

Background to WRC claim

The teacher had been out on sick leave and was returning to work in the small primary school on a phased basis. One of the conditions around her return to school, in order to reduce the risk of infections, was that she would only work with small groups of children and avoid mainstream classroom settings.

Certain conditions had been agreed to by the principal in recognition of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodation to an employee with a disability or underlying condition.

One day, the principal was in a pickle as two staff members were absent and the principal asked the teacher if she would assist her with one of the mainstream classes. The teacher refused as she had been advised not to work in a mainstream setting.

The principal told the teacher that it was an emergency and asked for an assurance that if the situation occurred again in the future that the teacher would assist.

The teacher went out on work related stress and requested on her return that she would only teach in a learning support capacity and would not be requested to help with mainstream classes.

The school did not agree to this request on the basis that to do so would compromise the health and safety of the children in the school. The teacher brought a claim to the Workplace Relations Commission on the grounds of discrimination by reason of the school’s stance with respect to the teacher’s request.

WRC decision

The WRC adjudication officer held that it would be a disproportionate burden for a small school to allow the teacher to work full time in a special education or learning support capacity.

The school successfully defended the claim.

This case is a reminder that whilst the employer has a duty to make reasonable accommodation it cannot be asked to carry a disproportionate burden in doing so.

Section 16 of the Employment Equality Act is relevant:

( b ) The employer shall take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a person who has a disability —

(i) to have access to employment,

(ii) to participate or advance in employment, or

(iii) to undergo training,

unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer.