by Breda O'Malley , Eddie Hynes March-14-2022 in Employment Law

In the Belgian HR Rail Case, delivered in February of this year, the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU) considered whether an employer must provide a disabled worker with a new role, where the worker no longer has the capacity to do their original role, as a result of their disability. This is an evolving area of law and employers need to be mindful of their obligations.

The case before the CJEU concerned an individual who had been recruited as a trainee railway technician. After almost a year in this role, he developed a heart condition and required a pacemaker to be fitted, which was sensitive to the electromagnetic fields present on railway tracks. He was no longer able to perform his job as a trainee railway technician. According to his medical advice, he could be employed in a post which involved ‘moderate activity, no exposure to magnetic fields.’ His employer reassigned him to a warehouse role within the company for a few months. Then his employer terminated his traineeship owing to his permanent incapacity to perform the duties for which he had been originally recruited.

What does the law say?

Article 5 of Council Directive 2000/78/EC (the “Directive”) states that employers must provide ‘reasonable accommodation’ for disabled workers. This is to support equal treatment of people with disabilities in employment. However, the measures must not impose a disproportionate burden on the employer. The employee claimed that he should have been assigned to a position for which he had the necessary competence, capability, and availability, and that his employment should not have been terminated. The CJEU held that the employer must consider the extent of its obligations on a case-by-case basis. An employer must adopt measures which are ‘effective and practical…. adapting premises and equipment, patterns of working time, the distribution of tasks, the provision of training.’ According to the CJEU, this may include the reassignment of the person with a disability to another suitable position.

What employers need to know

Where a worker becomes permanently incapable of remaining in his job because of the onset of a disability, reassignment to another job may constitute an appropriate measure in the context of reasonable accommodation, provided this does not place a disproportionate burden on the employer. This is to remove barriers preventing effective participation of people with disabilities in employment on an equal basis with other workers.

For further information on the issues raised, please contact Breda O'Malley Eddie Hynes or any member of our Employment Law Group.

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