THE HSE has not ruled out a legal challenge after a tribunal awarded €70,000 to a medical secretary found to have been discriminated against on disability grounds.
Formerly employed at University Hospital Limerick, the woman suffered from an embarrassing bowel condition and successfully argued that the HSE should make “reasonable accommodation” for her disability in providing her with a single office close to a toilet.
Offers of new roles at two primary care centres in West Limerick, at reception and at A&E at University Hospital Limerick, at St Camillus’ Hospital and within the Mental Health Services were all found unsuitable for various reasons that included unsocial hours; the requirement to interact with the public given her embarrassment over her condition and distance from a toilet.
The Equality Tribunal awarded her €70,000, close to the maximum award, noting evidence from the woman’s GP that the HSE’s failure to give her a single office had aggravated her medical
The woman had been employed by the HSE at a medical secretary, managing consultant appointments, since 2001. She was diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) in 2004, a condition which had “embarrassing” symptoms and caused bouts of acute stomach pain.
She had been sharing an office with a single colleague - who she said understood her condition - until they were informed in September 2006 that their office was required as a research facility for junior doctors and they would have to move to a new office elsewhere on the Dooradoyle campus. The employee argued the new location was unsuitable as she would be embarrassed to share an office with three others and it was further away from a toilet.
She had remained in her old office until July 2007 when the HSE tried to force the move through, which resulted in the employee going out on sick leave.
In its case to the tribunal, the HSE said it did not accept that the new accommodation offers were unsuitable. The toilet in the new office she was originally offered was only seven seconds further away on foot, they argued.
Equality officer Marian Duffy said the HSE’s HR manager “did not take her medical problem seriously” when issues were highlighted by the employee and the IMPACT trade union.
Ms Duffy noted that the woman’s GP and the HSE’s own occupational health physician were of the view that she should be offered a single office with easy access to a toilet.
The HSE were “not proactive in any way” in dealing with the issue and the tribunal could not accept the alternative roles offered amounted to “reasonable accommodation”. Ms Duffy could “not accept the HSE was unable to locate a single occupancy office for a person with a disability” somewhere on the Dooradoyle campus.
In addition to the €70,000 award, the tribunal ordered the HSE to make arrangements to provide her with a single office near a toilet somewhere on the hospital grounds and reinstate her in her old job.
Asked whether it would now carry out these instructions or would seek to challenge the order, a spokesman said: “The HSE had just received the report, the decision has been noted and the HSE is considering the report”.