In a seminal disability discrimination decision, the Court of Appeal has clarified the law on employers’ statutory duty to make accommodations (or “reasonable adjustments” as they are known in some countries) for employees suffering from disabilities. In Nano Nagle School v. Daly, the court overturned a decision relating to a special needs assistant (SNA) who was dismissed on incapacity grounds.

The Employment Equality Acts 1998 to 2015 (EEA) obligate employers to take appropriate measures to enable a person who has a disability to participate and advance in employment, unless the measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer. The EEA also provides that employers are not required to retain an individual if the employee is not fully competent and available to undertake the duties attached to that position.

Marie Daly was employed as an SNA at a special needs school. Following an accident, she was paralyzed from the waist down and wheelchair bound. On seeking to return to work, the school determined that she did not have the capacity to carry out the duties associated with an SNA; therefore, it could not accommodate her return to work.

Daly brought a complaint, arguing that the school had failed to provide appropriate measures to enable her to return to work, contrary to the EEA, and had never properly considered making any adjustments to the nature of her role.

In its judgement, the court took a practical view of the legislation. It found that Daly was unable to perform the essential tasks of an SNA in the school and that no accommodations could change this. The court held that in general it is reasonable to propose that some ancillary tasks associated with a role are redistributed or exchanged; however, that does not extend to stripping away the essential tasks that the position entails. While the Labor Court and the High Court had previously found that the school had not properly considered the redistribution of Daly’s tasks, the court of appeal stated that “if no reasonable adjustments can be made for a disabled employee, the employer is not liable for failing to consider the matter or for not consulting. It is not a matter of review of process but of practical compliance.”


This judgment provides clarity on the interpretation of the EEA in relation to an employer’s duty of reasonable accommodation. With regard to an employer’s obligations, the court of appeal’s decision provides for a less onerous interpretation of the law than previously seen. This judgment implies that the EEA does not obligate an employer to create a new role for a disabled employee, and it supports the proposition that where an employee can no longer carry out tasks fundamental to his or her role, this may be grounds for dismissal. It must be remembered that every case should be properly considered on its own facts, and this judgment highlights that employers should obtain and adequately consider expert reports before making any decision. It should also be pointed out that Daly has recently been granted leave to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court of Ireland.   

Written by Catherine O’Flynn and Jeffrey Greene of William Fry LLC and Roger James of Ogletree Deakins