First published: October 10th 2023
Last updated: October 10th 2023
The Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) has received nearly 500 employment equality complaints in the first half of 2023 with disability, gender and race being the basis for most claims.
These WRC figures highlight how important it is for employers to take all reasonably practicable steps to prevent workplace discrimination in their operations.
Breakdown of complaints
Of the employment equality complaints, 24 per cent involved disability, 21 per cent involved gender and 15 per cent involved race.
14 per cent of claims involved family status, 13 per cent concerned age and the remaining claims were made on the grounds of civil status, religion, sexual orientation and membership of the Travelling community.
Recent discrimination caselaw
While employers are largely aware that all employees are entitled to be treated equally, the application of the law continues to trip them up. Two recent decisions demonstrate how employers can get it wrong.
The WRC ordered a food takeaway business to to pay €16,000 in compensation to a cook who was dismissed during her pregnancy.
Employers must ensure that they take expert advice before making any decisions around how to manage an employee who is pregnant.
In this case, the employee suffered severe morning sickness symptoms that resulted in absences from work as well frequent toilet breaks while in work.
The employee also gave uncontested evidence stating that her line manager had made remarks like “you’re pregnant and not disabled.”
A letter confirming her dismissal also included the following statement…“I’ve got a business to look after and can’t be left stuck … I’m sorry. All the best in your pregnancy.” All the evidence pointed towards a discriminatory dismissal that was entirely attributable to the employee’s pregnancy.
The WRC confirmed that this complaint amounted to discriminatory treatment on the gender ground and ordered the employer to pay the employee €16,000 in compensation.
Takeaway for employers
One key issue for employers to note from this case is that employees do not need 12 months’ continuous service to make discrimination claims as they would to make an unfair dismissal claim.
€50,000 award for employee’s disability claim
The WRC also ordered Kerry County Council to pay over €52,000 to an office worker in a discrimination claim on the ground of disability.
The employee in question developed back trouble in 2016 that impacted her capacity to complete her work.
The WRC heard evidence that Kerry County Council failed to take action for a period of seven years on implementing “low-cost, straightforward recommendations made by five different medical experts.”
A series of failures over a number of years by the council to provide the necessary supports that would allow the employee to resume full-time hours ultimately resulted in the employee lodging a formal grievance in May 2018. The grievance remained unresolved at the time of the WRC hearing in 2023.
The WRC Adjudicator ruled that the employee had suffered “continuing discrimination” as a result of her employer’s failure to provide the appropriate workstation supports that would allow her to increase her working hours.
The Adjudicator noted that the employer “fell significantly short of what is expected of an employer” in the Irish employment equality legislation.
The ruling also included directions to Kerry County Council to put the employee on the weekly roster recommended by her GP in August 2019 and to provide the equipment recommended by an ergonomic assessment in May 2018 within six weeks of the WRC decision.
Takeaway for employers
Disability is widely defined under Irish employment equality legislation and employers should remember their duty to provide reasonable accommodations that would allow disabled employees to perform the tasks and duties required in the role. What changes or accommodations to the workplace (or the way in which the work is completed) will be deemed reasonable is decided on a case-by-case basis.
Expert HR advice on workplace discrimination
Discrimination claims involve problematic employment law issues that employers often find difficult to handle.
Don’t take any action in response to a discrimination complaint until you’ve received expert HR advice.
Call us today on 01 886 0350 for expert HR guidance on how to deal with this technical area of Irish employment law.