Disability discrimination

12 November 2019

In Ireland, it’s against the law to discriminate against any employee with a disability in your business.

The definition of disability is also widely interpreted and if not properly understood, it can result in a costly Workplace Relations Commission or civil claim if you fail to follow current laws.

This guide examines the issue and how your organisation can adopt policies that ensure discrimination won’t happen. You can also contact us directly for assistance with this employment law matter.

Disability and discrimination laws

The main piece of Irish disability discrimination legislation affecting the workplace is the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2015 (EEA). The EEA prohibits discrimination in employment, including vocational training and work experience under nine specific grounds. 

You mustn't discriminate against employees, or job candidates, on the basis of any of the nine grounds. One of these is disability, which is defined in a particular way. It includes:

  • The total or partial absence of a person’s bodily or mental functions.
  • Chronic disease or illness.
  • The malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of a person’s body.
  • A condition that results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition.
  • A condition that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgments, or which results in disturbed behaviour.

Disability under the EEA includes discrimination against people with mental disabilities. This may include conditions such as bipolar disorder or anxiety issues.

The EEA also prohibit discrimination against people who have long-term disabling conditions, which may get worse over time, together with people who used to have a disability but no longer have one.

It's possible to divide disability discrimination into two main categories:

  1. Direct disability discrimination happens when a person with a disability receives different treatment due to who they are. 
  2. Indirect disability discrimination happens when the employer’s rules that appear neutral are, in fact, more difficult for employees with disabilities to comply with.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995

Complementing the EEA are other anti-discrimination laws.

The Disability Discrimination Act 1995, for instance, requires public sector services to ensure their facilities and services are accessible for people with disabilities.

Disability discrimination at work

Irish law requires you to adopt appropriate measures to meet the needs of employees and job applicants who have disabilities. 

You should have practical measures and policies in place to ensure individuals with disabilities have what they need to allow them to do their job in the same way as able-bodied people.

So during your daily operations you must look to accommodate disabled employees. During your hiring strategy, you must also treat any disabled job candidates fairly.

Failing to do so could result in a discrimination claim, which may lead to an employment tribunal

Making reasonable adjustments

You’re not obliged to hire, promote, retain, or provide training to candidates who aren't capable of doing the job a role requires. 

Before deciding a person isn't capable of doing the job, you must consider if there are appropriate measures or supports that would allow the person to do the job.

You do not have to take measures if these would place a disproportionate financial burden on your business. You should explore whether there is a possibility to obtain public funding or other financial assistance when making this decision.

Need our help?

If you want to know more about current employment laws and disability in the workplace, get in touch for guidance: 0818 923 923.

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