The very subject matter of this case makes for interesting reading - could someone really say that a fear of soiled nappies is a disability?
However, whether such a phobia is a disability or not is actually somewhat irrelevant based on recent case law. In the recent case of Nano Nagle School v Daly, the Court of Appeal distinguished between an employee's duties and tasks when determining what is reasonable accommodation for the purposes of a disability discrimination complaint pursuant to the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 (EEA). It was stated that an employee's duties effectively goes to the core of their job and that it is not reasonable accommodation for an employer to be expected to have to change an employee's duties in order to accommodate a person's disability. On the other hand, if an employer can change a number of tasks, which partly make up a particular duty, then that could be seen as being reasonable accommodation in accordance with the EEA.
The Nano Nagle case is on appeal to the Supreme Court and it must be noted that the ability to clearly distinguish between a duty and a task is not always as clear cut as suggested in the Nano Nagle decision. However, this case before the WRC which deals with a care assistant’s phobia of soiled nappies is a clear example of a duty being core to the employee’s role and indeed a step too far to expect the employer to take that duty of him as a form of reasonable accommodation.
The employee in this particular provided services to people with profound disabilities. One of the core duties of his role would involve him having to change patients nappies due to the nature of their disabilities.
The care assistant was originally hired into the role in 2006 and within 3 months he admitted to his employer that he had a phobia of soiled nappies. However, it wasn’t until 2014 that he ultimately went out sick due to this phobia, and continued to be out sick for approximately 3 years before his employer ultimately dismissed him. During the extended period of sick leave the employer tried on occasion to work with the employee to find alternative solutions to facilitate his return to work, but the employee claimed that he continued to suffer from mental distress arising from the phobia of the prospect of having to change soiled nappies.
As such, given the employee’s continued phobia of something that related to one of his core duties, a duty which had been in place since he commenced employment in 2006, the employer felt they had no other option but to terminate his employment as they could not take away this one core element of his role.
The WRC ultimately found in favour of the employer and held that the employer had not discriminated the employee on the grounds of disability by terminating his employment nor had he been victimised. The Adjudication Officer acknowledged that the decision to dismiss was an “unavoidable conclusion” of the employee’s own admission hat he was not able to perform the core duties of his job due to his phobia.
A care assistant who claimed his phobia of soiled nappies constituted a disability has lost a discrimination case against his former employer - a voluntary organisation for people with disabilities.