Ireland: Reasonable Accommodations For Disabled Employees – How Far Must An Employer Go?

Last Updated: 22 April 2016
Article by Michael Doyle


In the past few days, there has been widespread media coverage of former Newcastle United Football club star Jonas Gutierrez's successful disability discrimination claim against his old club. It has been reported that Mr Gutierrez could be awarded up to Ł2million in compensation, in light of the finding of the Birmingham employment tribunal that he had been discriminated against, by reason of his disability, on being dropped following his return from treatment for testicular cancer. The employment tribunal also found that Newcastle United had failed to provide reasonable accommodations for Mr Gutierrez by not taking account of his medical related absence when considering whether he had met a condition in his contract that required him to start a set number of games over a four year period, which if satisfied, would have triggered an automatic one year extension to his contract. This case serves as a high profile reminder to employers of the dangers of failing to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees, particularly when the failure to do so precedes a decision to dismiss.

The Irish High Court has recently had cause to consider the extent of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to disabled employees and while nowhere near as high profile as the Gutierrez case, the judgment in Nano Nagle School v Daly [2015] IEHC 785 is of far more relevance and practical significance for Irish employers.


Ms Nagle was a special needs assistant (SNA) who was tragically injured in an accident that rendered her wheelchair bound. She sought to return to work following her recovery and produced a report from her occupational therapist which certified her as fit to return on a phased basis. The respondent school retained its own occupational therapist who identified 16 duties of an SNA and concluded that Ms Nagle could complete 9 duties wholly or partly but not the remaining 7. The report from the school's occupational therapist was considered by a doctor from Medmark who, following a discussion with the principal of the school about the feasibility of accommodating Ms Nagle as outlined in the occupational therapist's report, opined that Ms Nagle was medically unfit to perform the role of an SNA. The school relied on this doctor's report to justify dismissing Ms Nagle on the grounds of medical incapacity and Ms Nagle subsequently sought to challenge that decision by way of a discriminatory dismissal claim under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 (the "Employment Equality Acts").


Ms Nagle succeeded in her claim against the school before the Labour Court, with the Court finding that the school had failed to discharge its obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to her, as it had only considered the accommodations required to enable her return to all of her duties as an SNA and not to the accommodations required to enable her return to adjusted duties.

One of the primary grounds of appeal advanced by the respondent school before the High Court was that the Labour Court had made an error of law in relation to its interpretation of section 16 of the Employment Equality Acts, in that the Labour Court had accepted that the duty to provide reasonable accommodations to Ms Nagle extended to considering reducing her duties to enable her return to an adjusted role. The respondent school submitted that the extent of an employer's duty to provide reasonable accommodations did not extend to reducing a disabled employee's duties.

The High Court, in dismissing this ground of appeal, stated that definition of "appropriate measures" (more colloquially referred to as "reasonable accommodations") in the Employment Equality Acts included the "adaptation of... patterns of working time...[and] distribution of tasks" and that, as a consequence, a disabled employee is to be regarded as fully competent to undertake and fully capable of undertaking the duties of a job if the disabled employee would be so competent and capable on the distribution of tasks associated with that job being adapted by the employer. The Court further stated that the distribution of tasks must also include the elimination of tasks.

The Court ultimately upheld the Labour Court's conclusion that the respondent school, in failing to consider whether or not certain of Ms Daly's duties as an SNA could be redistributed, had breached its obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to her.


Section 16 of the Employment Equality Acts can provide a complete defence to a discriminatory dismissal claim if it can be shown that the employer believed an employee was not fully capable of performing the duties for which he/she was employed. On first, and perhaps even second, reading of section 16, an employer might reasonably conclude that if an employee is, by reason of their disability, and even with the provision of reasonable accommodations, not fully capable of performing the duties for which they are employed, the employer can lawfully terminate that disabled employee's employment. However, this case makes clear that this is not the case and that the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations extends to considering adjusting a disabled employee's role such they might be in a position to return to a role that is different to that performed by their non-disabled colleagues.

The High Court in this case was clearly of the view that to demonstrate compliance with section 16 of the Employment Equality Acts, the respondent school had to be in a position to evidence that it had considered adjusting the duties required of an SNA to enable Ms Nagle return to an adjusted role. This necessitated an assessment of the feasibility of reallocating certain of her duties to other SNAs. As this was not done, the Court was not satisfied that the school had adequately discharged its obligation to provide reasonable accommodations.

This judgment is a significant pronouncement on the extent of the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations to a disabled employee. It re-emphasises that the obligation can be fairly described as onerous. That said, the obligation is not an untrammelled one and is subject to the overriding principle that the obligation only extends as far as providing accommodations that do not impose a disproportionate burden. The High Court acknowledged this restriction when it stated: "It may or may not be relevant to consider whether a point is reached where the appropriate measures transform the job into something entirely different from that which originally existed". Unfortunately it is not possible to provide generally applicable guidance on where the line is drawn on when the provision of reasonable accommodations involves the imposition of a disproportionate burden. However, such a line does exist and it is for employers to consider, in each individual case, whether that line has been crossed when it comes to considering the reasonable accommodations that may need to be provided to enable a disabled employee undertake their role.

The key learning from this case is that the obligation to provide reasonable accommodations extends to considering, and in certain cases, modifying the role of a disabled employee to enable them to return to a modified role. A failure to do so can render an employer in breach of section 16. Conversely, an employer who does give consideration to the feasibility of a role adjustment, and reasonably concludes that to do so would impose a disproportionate burden, is in a far better position to proceed with a dismissal on the grounds of medical incapacity and defend any ensuing litigation.

This article contains a general summary of developments and is not a complete or definitive statement of the law. Specific legal advice should be obtained where appropriate.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

In association with
Related Video
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.