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Human Rights and Equality in the Workplace

Annual Report from the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission

On Monday 24th June, 2019, the Irish Human Rights and Equality Commission (“the Commission”) which is now in its fourth year of work, launched its Annual Report to the Houses of the Oireachtas.

The Report summarises the work carried out by the Commission in 2018 and among other things discusses some of its work in the area of equality in the workplace.

Disability Discrimination:

The issue of discrimination on the grounds of disability features prominently in the Report. The Report confirms there were 1,711 concerns raised with the Commission in 2018 and that disability remains the highest area of contact seeing almost a third of all equality related concerns.

The Report explains that among its legal powers the Commission may apply to the Superior Courts for liberty to appear as amicus curiae (‘friend of the court’) in proceedings that involve, or are concerned with, the human rights or equality rights of any person. The Court may grant or refuse this liberty at its absolute discretion. The Report explains that acting as amicus curiae means that the Commission does not take any side in the case; rather it assists the Court in advising it in respect of the human rights and equality issues directly relevant to the case.

One such case where the Commission has exercised this power is a case on the question of disability discrimination namely, the high profile employment equality case of Nano Nagle School v. Marie Daly. In that case a Special Needs Assistance has brought an employment equality case in connection with the termination of her employment on the grounds of incapacity after she was left with a disability following an accident and her employer claimed she no longer had the capacity to undertake her full set of duties. The Commission was granted leave to appear as amicus curiae in the Supreme Court appeal of that case. The Supreme Court decision is currently awaited.

The Report contains further examples of the Commission’s engagement in respect of the area of disability discrimination. For Instance, the Report confirms that the Commission provided representation in respect of a case involving an allegation of discrimination by a man in his thirties who is deaf and had an interview offer with a recruitment service withdrawn after he made what the Report refers to as “basic reasonable accommodation requests”.

Discrimination on the grounds race, age and family status:

The Report also cites specific examples of the provision of representation by the Commission in respect of other kinds of work related discrimination claims including claims concerning alleged racial harassment/discrimination and discrimination on the grounds of age and family status.

Employment related Codes of Conduct:

The Report references a number of draft codes of conduct which the Commission are currently working on and which are relevant in an employment law context. These include:

Takeaway:

  1. The Report serves as a reminder to employers that they should be careful not to discriminate on any of the nine discriminatory grounds either in the context of ongoing employment or at recruitment stage.
  2. In light of the significant interest the Commission has taken in the area of disability discrimination and the fact that disability remains the highest area of contact for the Commission, employers should be very careful to ensure they are fully aware of and complying with their obligations in respect of employees and perspective employees with disabilities. In particular employers should remain very mindful of their duty to provide reasonable accommodation to employees with disabilities and obtain expert medical advice in relation to what accommodations are required before making any decision.
  3. Employers should watch this space in respect of the draft employment related codes the Commission are currently working on as in time company handbooks and employee policies and procedures may need to be updated to take account of the finalised versions of the codes.

28th June 2019

Anne O’Connell Solicitors

Fitzwilliam Hall, Fitzwilliam Place, Dublin 2.

www.aocsolicitors.ie

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