Guidance from the Supreme Court in the ‘Nano Nagle’ Reasonable Accommodation Case

supreme court nano nagle

The recent Supreme Court decision in the ‘Nano Nagle’ is worth a closer look by both employers and employees who are concerned with what is expected by way of ‘reasonable accommodation’ for an employee with a disability.

This obligation on an employer to provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ to an employee is set out in section 16 of the Employment Equality Act 1998.

Section 16 of the act provides, inter alia,

F33 [ (3) ( a ) For the purposes of this Act a person who has a disability is fully competent to undertake, and fully capable of undertaking, any duties if the person would be so fully competent and capable on reasonable accommodation (in this subsection referred to as ‘ appropriate measures ’ ) being provided by the person ’ s employer.

( 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.

( c ) In determining whether the measures would impose such a burden account shall be taken, in particular, of —

(i) the financial and other costs entailed,

(ii) the scale and financial resources of the employer ’s business, and

(iii) the possibility of obtaining public funding or other assistance.]

(4) In subsection (3)—

F34 [ ‘appropriate measures ’ , in relation to a person with a disability —

( a ) means effective and practical measures, where needed in a particular case, to adapt the employer ’ s place of business to the disability concerned,

( b ) without prejudice to the generality of paragraph (a) , includes the adaptation of premises and equipment, patterns of working time, distribution of tasks or the provision of training or integration resources, but

( c ) does not include any treatment, facility or thing that the person might ordinarily or reasonably provide for himself or herself; ]

In overturning the Court of Appeal decision in the case the Supreme Court held that there was no reason why providing reasonable accommodation should not involve a redistribution of duties in the workplace, provided this did not place a disproportionate burden on the employer. In making this finding the Supreme Court held that it was not enough for the employer to merely divide up the job between essential duties and non-essential tasks, as the Court of Appeal had decided.

You will note from section 16 above that there is a non-exhaustive list set out in the Employment Equality Act 1998 which includes ‘the adaptation of premises and equipment, patterns of working time, distribution of tasks or the provision of training or integration resources’.

This Supreme Court decision goes a step further in placing an obligation on the employer.

It has done so by suggesting that the employer must look not only at a redistribution of the tasks of the role but must look at a redistribution of the essential duties and functions of the employee’s job. The Supreme Court arrived at this finding on the basis that the Act in question obliges the employer to consider all appropriate measures to provide reasonable accommodation provided the cost of doing so would not be disproportionate.

The Supreme Court held, in essence, that the ‘test is one of reasonableness and proportionality’ but there was an obligation on the employer to explore whether public funding would be available to assist with the provision of reasonable accommodation.

As for consulting with the employee the Court of Appeal held that there was no obligation for employee participation in the process. The Supreme Court on the other hand held that while there was no statutory obligation to consult with the employee it made sense and would be sensible for the employer to do so.

The Court also reaffirmed the long held position that the employer was not obliged to create a different job for the affected employee.

Rap on the knuckles for the Labour Court

The Supreme Court also gave a slight rap on the knuckles to the Labour Court by finding that it had failed in its duty to consider all relevant evidence in the case and failed to provide reasons for its conclusions based on the evidence and sent the case back to the Labour Court for further consideration on specific points.

The Court also criticised the Labour Court for failing to give any reason for the level of compensation it had awarded on the grounds that fair procedures would dictate that parties are entitled to know the reasoning behind the level of an award.

Read the Supreme Court decision here: Nano Nagle School v Daly [2019] IESC 63

The 2 Big Problems With Claiming for Bullying in the Workplace

workplace bullying

Are you being bullied at work?

No, I mean really being bullied. As in repeated inappropriate behaviour which undermines your dignity as an employee.

Let me explain.

If I got a euro for every time an employee came to me and told me he/she was being bullied in work I would be a wealthy man.

But the vast majority of the time it what is described to me is not bullying, and will not fall within the legal definition of bullying.

For example, often, the employee will tell me she has been subjected to the disciplinary procedure in the workplace. There is two problems with claiming this is bullying:

  1. It is a one off situation, and not part of a repeated pattern of behaviour which undermines the employee’s dignity;
  2. Management is entitled to invoke the disciplinary procedure in the workplace, for obvious reasons.

So, being involved in a disciplinary procedure is not bullying, per se, although if it was part of a concerted campaign of inappropriate behaviour.

On other occasions, an employee will have an issue or complaint in relation to some aspect of their work, or terms and conditions of their employment. They will, correctly, invoke the grievance procedure in the workplace, but disagree with the outcome.

They simply will not accept the decision, as it was not what they wanted or expected. The disappointment is understandable, but bullying it is not.

Remember if you raise a complaint or grievance or bring a claim or legal proceedings there is a number of potential outcomes. One of these is that you will lose. You need to be ready for this, and ready to put it behind you and move on.

The legal definition of bullying was recently affirmed in the Supreme Court decision in the Ruffley v Board of Management of St. Anne’s School. Remember, we are talking about repeated, inappropriate behaviour which undermines the dignity of the employee.

What does this mean?

Firstly, the conduct complained of must be repeated. This probably means a period of at least 6 months. It is not possible to say, with any confidence, that a lesser period will not be considered bullying. But the point you must take from this is: the inappropriate conduct must not be a one off situation, or of short duration.

Secondly, the conduct complained of as bullying behaviour must undermine the dignity of the employee. What does this mean?

According to the Supreme Court decision the type of behaviour you must prove

must be outrageous, unacceptable, and exceeding all bounds tolerated by decent society.

This, clearly, is a pretty high hurdle to clear.

The Court also held that a certain degree of robustness is required of the employee in the workplace. Instruction, direction and even, on occasion, robust management, are all necessary in a workplace to ensure efficiency, that the work gets done, and health and safety in the workplace is maintained.

The treatment you endure at work may make you very annoyed, it may upset you from time to time, you may feel it is personal, you may feel it is bullying.

But from a legal perspective, proving bullying behaviour, according to Justice Charleton in the Supreme Court, must clear a high standard of proof:

“the test for bullying is of necessity to be set very high”.

The reason for this, I presume, is that for workplaces to function management must be able to manage and organise the affairs of the workplace safely, without facing frequent Court proceedings for perceived slights, give necessary direction and instruction, and, occasionally, robust management.

The Legal Redress for Bullying

There are two substantial types of claim (one more substantial than the other) you can bring arising from being a victim of bullying, assuming that you can prove that what you have experienced is bullying, as discussed above.

  1. A Claim in Civil Court

Your claim will be that a tort (civil wrong) has occurred.

You must prove that the employer has been negligent in failing to discharge his duty of care, discharging his duty to provide a safe place of work, that you have suffered a recognised psychiatric or psychological injury as a result of that negligence, and are entitled to recover damages. You would also claim that the employer is in breach of the contract of employment in failing to deal property and promptly with your complaints.

Going to Court is expensive and, in relation to costs, the winner takes all. (Elsewhere on my site I have set out what you need to prove to win your case in Court).

2. A Claim for Constructive Dismissal

This claim is brought to the WRC (Workplace Relations Commission) and involves you quitting your job and claiming that the bullying you have suffered in the workplace has not been dealt with by the employer, and you have had no real choice but to leave your job.

This claim does not have the cost implications of going to Court, but the redress you can be awarded is significantly less, too, as you cannot be awarded damages for pain and suffering.

You can only be awarded financial loss for your loss of employment. The amount of financial loos will depend on how quickly you get a new job.

Conclusion

You will see from the above that the two main options open to you if you are a victim of bullying in the workplace have inherent difficulties.

Going to Court is a high stakes endeavour with potentially high legal costs, a high burden of proof to prove bullying, and you must be able to prove you have suffered a recognised injury of a psychological or psychiatric nature.

Going to the WRC on a constructive dismissal claim will see you losing your job and only being able to recover your financial loss for being out of work between jobs.

The two big problems with commencing some type of claim or redress for bullying in the workplace are:

  1. Satisfying the legal proof required to prove bullying
  2. The difficulties associated with the avenues of redress open to you.

If you suffer from bullying you do not have to suffer in silence. There is action you can take to resolve the difficulty.

But it is probably useful that you are aware of the difficulties at the outset.