The Equality Tribunal recently found in favour of an employee, who suffers from vertigo, and awarded him €65,000 for discrimination on the ground of disability.
The employee, a joiner, was diagnosed with vertigo shortly after he commenced employment with his employer in 1995. The employee stated that he was absent from work approximately twice a year for a period of two to four days as a result of his condition and that each absence was certified by his GP.
Following one such period of absence, the employee was transferred from his normal external work duties and assigned internal duties in a workshop. Three weeks later, after suffering another mild episode of vertigo whilst at work, he was advised by a Director of the employer company that he “had to let him go because he was not covered by his insurance policy”.
The employee further alleged that he was told by his employer that he would be given a severance package. He signed a document that he believed to be a severance agreement but was not given a copy of it. Later, by correspondence, his employer contended that he was not dismissed but on “lay-off.”
The Equality Tribunal was satisfied that vertigo amounted to a disability within the scope of equality legislation. It found that the employee had established a presumption of discrimination in relation to the change in his working conditions and his dismissal. It noted that the employer did not attend the hearing or rebut the presumption of discrimination. The Equality Tribunal noted that the employee was 61, had a reasonable expectation that he would work until his retirement age and that despite significant efforts he had been unable to obtain alternative employment. It awarded the employee €65,000 as compensation which included an amount of €55,000 in respect of one year’s loss of earnings.
As a result of the wide definition of the word disability in equality legislation it is important, in cases such as this, that where an employer is put on notice of a potential disability full enquiries are made as to whether it is necessary to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate the employee.