A woman who complained of discrimination against the Irish Prison Service for not being allowed to work from home has been awarded €55,000


A woman with heart disease who complained of discrimination against the Irish Prison Service for not being allowed to work from home during the pandemic has been awarded €55,000 by the Workplace Relations Commission.

Aroline O’Connor worked as a senior officer at Cork Prison Service from May 2013, full-time, during which time she had a three-week absence from work due to illness in 2019.

Ms O’Connor has been on sick leave from the service since February 2020.

His salary was halved from July 2020, but income maintenance programs increased his earnings to 75% of normal salary.

Ms O’Connor alleged discrimination in terms of employment because of a disability and that the Prison Service failed to reasonably accommodate her request to work from home.

In February 2020 she had an acute cardiac event at work and applied for permission to work from home and was denied three times in March and April 2020.

In April 2020, she presented a “fit to return to work from home” certificate deemed unacceptable by the prison. Her GP had written that Ms O’Connor ‘is fit for duty but not on site at Cork Prison’.

The prison mandated her to return to work when medically fit because she was deemed an essential worker, based on the site. The grievor’s paid sick leave was therefore jeopardized.

Dan Walshe BL, for Ms O’Connor, said it was clear to the Respondent before that date that Ms O’Connor was seeking “reasonable accommodation”.

Mr Walshe argued that the complainant had not been confronted with a risk assessment of her condition by the defendant, who had taken a “one size fits all” approach for prison staff.

He added that the Complainant’s situation was clearly different from that of her colleagues who had no underlying conditions.

Prison Service lawyer Peter Leonard BL pointed out that due to the nature of the duties of the post, on-site attendance was mandatory and remote working only applied to staff at headquarters in Longford and to the management of the prison. He said measures had been put in place to ensure the safety of staff remaining assigned to work on site through a series of staggered arrival times, break times, social distancing, PPE and streamlining interactions of on-duty personnel.

Mr Leonard said each government department was required to determine what constituted essential work in agreement with its senior management teams. The prison warden had told Ms O’Connor: “There is no agreement on prison staff working from home. Unfortunately, he cannot be accommodated.”

In her decision, Adjudication Officer Patsy Doyle said: “I can safely conclude that the Respondent was obligated to try, at the very least, to explore the circumstances and come to a conclusion whether” on an accommodation reasonable” and by “appropriate steps” the Complainant could undertake his duties.”

“No one has carried out a risk assessment on this, nor assessed any of the duties or tasks suggested by the complainant. No one has measured the fear that has intensified for her in the face of the evolution of Covid. It it may well have turned out that working from home was not the complainant’s first thought panacea, or perhaps a compromise on hours or duties could have been found, but this proposal deserved consideration. be taken into consideration.

“I find that the respondent discriminated against the complainant in providing reasonable accommodation,” he said, adding that the respondent discriminated against Ms. O’Connor regarding terms and conditions of employment.

Ms Doyle ordered the Prison Service to pay Ms O’Connor €55,000 ‘as compensation for the effects of this discrimination’.

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