In a claim taken against a primary school before the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC), a teacher alleged that she had been discriminated against by the school who failed to reasonably accommodate her.
The teacher at the centre of this case returned to school from sick leave on a phased basis on condition that she would only work with small groups of children and would avoid mainstream classroom settings to minimise her exposure to any infections.
The principal of the school agreed to several accommodations given her medical condition. Following the Complainant’s return to work, the principal asked the teacher if she could assist her with one of the mainstream classes on a day when two staff members in the school were out unexpectedly. The teacher refused on the basis that she had been advised not to work in a mainstream class setting. The principal explained that this was an emergency. The principal sought an assurance from the teacher that if a similar situation arose in the future, she would be willing to help.
The teacher subsequently went out on work related stress leave and, on her return, requested that she would only teach in a learning support capacity in the school full time and that she would not be asked to assist with mainstream classes.
The school argued that the health and safety of the children would be compromised if the school acceded to the teacher’s request to work full time in the school without having to assist with mainstream classes.
The Adjudication Officer examined Section 16 of the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 which requires an employer to do what is reasonable to accommodate the needs of a person who has a disability by providing special treatment or facilities.
The Adjudication Officer examined whether the burden on the school to accommodate the teacher was proportionate. The Adjudication Officer noted that given the fact that the school was a small school it would have been a disproportionate burden on the school to allow the teacher work full time in a special education or learning support capacity.
The Adjudication officer found in favour of the school and held that the teacher was not discriminated against.
This case is useful for schools as it serves as a reminder of the important legal obligation to reasonably accommodate a member of staff. It is vital to engage with a staff member’s request for accommodation, but it is important to note that if a request for reasonable accommodation is disproportionate and not in the best interests of the school, there is no obligation on the school to provide those accommodations.
For more information, please contact a member of our Education Law team.
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