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13.11.2019

Employer ordered to pay €15,000 to ex-employee with stammer

In what continues to be a problem area for employers, discrimination under employment equality legislation needs to be understood to avoid expensive financial and reputational consequences.

This risk of breaching employment equality laws was highlighted in a recent case where the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) ordered an agricultural machinery manufacturer to pay €15,000 in compensation for a discriminatory dismissal.

It’s a “communication thing”

Working as a design engineer, the employee had over 30 years’ experience and had worked with his new employer for less than 12 months. He alleged that he was dismissed due to his severe speech impediment.

When he interviewed for the role in 2016 he made the employer aware of his stammer, which at the time was not an issue.

Use of app

While employed with the business, the employee’s boss suggested he use a ‘text to speech’ app. The app allowed the employee to type in what he wanted to say, which the app would then relay.

However, the employee found the app unsuitable, saying that the process took longer than it did to say it with his stammer and that the volume was too low.

Without warning, the employee’s boss told him “we’re parting company. It’s not working out.” The employee questioned this decision and was told that his “designs were good, it’s the whole communication thing.” His boss went on to say that he needed someone who could communicate with dealers and customers, not just design.

The employee submitted a complaint, under the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 contending that his employer discriminated against him by dismissing him for reasons based on his disability.

Employer’s position

In their defence, the employer focused on two aspects of the employee’s position. They first argued that the employee was aware that he was hired on a six-month fixed-term contract that was extended for a further six months. The employer submitted that the termination of employment resulted solely from the expiry of the second fixed-term contract.

The employer also argued that the reason for the dismissal was performance-related and that the employee did not have the required ability for the technical facets of the job.

Workplace Relations Commission decision

The WRC found that there was insufficient evidence to support either of the employer’s arguments. The WRC ruled that the employee was not properly informed about the nature of his employment and that he was within his rights to assume that his role was permanent.

The WRC also found no evidence that the employee was not capable of performing the technical duties of his role. The employee submitted details of a text message from a colleague to support his argument that his work was of a high standard.

As the employee had successfully made a prima facie case that the employer had made a discriminatory dismissal on the ground of disability, the burden of proof shifted to the employer to show that it had exercised its responsibility to make reasonable accommodations to allow the employee to remain in employment.

Although the WRC accepted that the use of the text to speech app showed a willingness to assist, overall the employer failed to properly investigate and address any work-related issues connected with his disability.

The WRC ruled that the employee’s complaint of discrimination was well founded and ordered the employer to pay him €15,000 in compensation.

Reduce the risk of discrimination claims

The law on reasonable accommodation and discrimination in employment is a complex area that employers can’t afford to ignore. Call us today to discuss this or any other employment issues that might pose a risk to your business.

If you would like further complementary advice on employment equality laws, our advisors are ready to take your call. Call us on 01 886 0350 or request a callback here.

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