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Woman with disabilities awarded €30k after employer refused to provide her with a chair

Her previous role at a customer service desk had changed, meaning she would have been required to stand.

Image: stock photo of desk chair via Shutterstock

A WOMAN HAS been awarded €30,000 at an Equality Tribunal after her workplace failed to take appropriate action to allow her to return to work.

This included the company refusing to provide her with a chair at a customer service desk “due to health and safety concerns”.

The woman had worked with the employer, described as a “multi-national retailer”, for over 30 years on a customer service desk.

However, issues first arose in 2001 when she underwent an operation to remove her colon, and four years later when she had two knee replacement operations due to osteoarthritis.

Disabled bathroom

This meant she required easy access to a disabled bathroom – something not provided by her employer.

She was permitted extra time to walk to a disabled bathroom located elsewhere in the shopping centre, “which was not kept clean”, as the only one available in store was located up a flight of stairs.

She later broke her leg in a separate incident when abroad in 2011, and under orders from her doctor she would be unable to stand for long periods at work.

Significant turnover

The employer reneged on plans to build one within the store with plans for a revamp where shelved, with Equality Officer Orlaith Mannion ruling that the company’s significant turnover meant they could easily have afforded the €20,000 quoted to install one in-store.

After attempting to return to work on a phased basis, the store did not follow her doctor’s requests that she be allowed to sit and to have a disabled bathroom installed.

“A ‘just say no’ approach seems to be taken,” Mannion said.

The woman was offered a job on checkouts, turned down as she would be required to lift heavy boxes, and was unable to return to her customer service job as work practices has changed.

A chair was removed from behind this desk, as since there were now two staff in this area it would pose a “health and safety concern”.

“Of course, the prerogative of any commercial enterprise is to make a profit but business reasons should not be confused with health and safety concerns,” Mannion wrote.

It makes business sense for the respondent to require employees at the customer service desk to multi-task and the respondent has decided that employees do this more effectively while standing but this is a different (albeit not mutually exclusive) motivation to concern for employees’ health and safety.

The store must now pay the woman €30,000 in compensation and conduct a review of employment policies.

Read: School discriminated against a student because he was Protestant >

More: Lithuanian woman awarded €34k in Mayo discrimination claim >

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Nicky Ryan

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