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Disability at Work

Disability at Work in Ireland

Definition of disability by the law in Ireland

The Disability Act (Government of Ireland, 2005) defines disability as:
“A substantial restriction in the capacity of the person to carry on a profession, business or occupation in the Irish State or to participate in social or cultural life in the Irish State by reason of an enduring physical, sensory, mental health or intellectual impairment.”

13.5% of the population of Ireland, or 643,131 people have at least one disability.

The law which deals with disability in the workplace is the Employment Equality Acts 1998 – 2015 (EEA). It defines disability in a particular way. It applies to:

  • The total or partial absence of a person’s bodily or mental functions
  • Chronic disease or illness
  • The malfunction, malformation or disfigurement of a part of a person’s body;
  • A condition that results in a person learning differently from a person without that condition
  • A condition that affects a person’s thought processes, perception of reality, emotions or judgments, or which results in disturbed behaviour
Lived Experience #1

One Irish resident has been living in institutional care for most of their life and utilizes a wheelchair to get from one place to another. When they initially took the leap, at the age of twenty, to work and live on their own they started to come across many challenges resulting in them quitting and moving back home. Three years later, they made the decision to try again, but this time with a strong support system. This includes a community of other individuals with disabilities, personal assistant services, and colleagues, which made working as a manager and living independently much easier for them.

“I think once we bring society with us we become part of society, not a subset of society, which is outside society. If we don’t achieve that then society is going to fail.”

Disability Compliance

Employment Requirement and Benefits 

There is currently no quota for companies to employ individuals with disabilities in Ireland. 

In Ireland, everyone has the right to be treated equally regardless of disability. Discrimination during the recruitment process or in the workplace is unlawful.

The Equality Employment Acts 1998-2015 prohibit discrimination under the nine grounds in employment, including disability. The main obligations of employers under the act include the following:

  • Advertising
  • Equal pay
  • Access to employment
  • Vocational training and work experience
  • Terms and conditions of employment
  • Promotion or re-grading
  • Classification of posts
  • Dismissal
  • Collective agreements.

Part 5 of the Disability Act 2005 sets out the legal obligations of public service bodies:

  • To promote and support the employment of people with disabilities
  • To comply with any statutory Code of Practice
  • To meet a target of 3% of employees with disabilities
  • To report every year on achievement of these obligations
  • It is further outlined under the Comprehensive Strategy for People with Disabilities (2015 – 2024), the Government has committed to increasing the public service employment target for persons with disabilities on an incremental basis from a minimum of 3% to a minimum of 6% by 2024.
Lived Experience #2

A blind Irish resident had a difficult time finding a job upon graduating from a post-secondary institution, until a year later when they finally got to secure one. During this new chapter, they were thrown into a world where they were no longer eligible for their medical card, which meant that they would have to spend 10-15 percent of their salary on health costs.

“The HSE seemed to believe that my blindness had been cured overnight with my job. They didn’t factor in the number of doctor and hospital visits I have each year. My rights as a person with disabilities should never change.”

Allowances & benefits 

For the individuals who work

Disability allowance

A weekly allowance paid to people with a disability, starting at 16 years of age. If you are in education when you turn 16, you can continue to attend school. If you qualify for Disability Allowance you may also get extra social welfare benefits (about  €140 weekly) with your payment and other supplementary welfare payments. Employees with a disability who live alone also qualify for Living Alone Allowance.

Free transportation

If you qualify for free travel, you are issued with a card that you must carry with you when using public transport. Free travel is available on all State public transport (bus, rail and Dublin's LUAS service) with some exceptions. In some cases, a Free Travel Companion Card is available which allows a person to travel with the holder (if they are unable to travel alone). 

If you are entitled to free travel and you are married, in a civil partnership or cohabiting, you are entitled to a Free Travel Card which allows your partner to accompany you free of charge when travelling. (This does not apply to people under age 66 who are getting Carer's Allowance or who are nominated carers for people getting Constant Attendance Allowance or Prescribed Relatives Allowance from the Department of Social Protection).

Domiciliary Care Allowance

A monthly payment for a child with a severe disability, based on the impact of the disability. The child must meet the disability criteria (here). At this time, Full-time carers are entitled to EUR 309.50 per week. You may also be entitled to Increase for a Qualified Child. Parents who work and care for the child only two2 days a week are entitled to a half rate (EUR 154.85).

The Personal Reader Grant (PRG)

Blind or visually impaired individuals who need assistance with job-related reading may be entitled to a grant to employ a Personal Reader under the PRG scheme. The government will pay an hourly fee, in line with the current minimum wage. It will be paid for an agreed period up to 640 hours a year.

The Ability Programme

The Ability Programme provides funding to 27 local, regional and national projects in the Republic of Ireland that focus on bringing young people with disabilities between the ages of 15 and 29 closer to the labour market. The programme promotes positive pathways into education, training and employment for participants. It has an overall budget of up to €16m from 2018 to 2021, is co-financed by the European Social Fund (ESF) and the Department of Social Protection (DSP), and administered by Pobal.

Lived Experience #3

An Irish resident who’s unable to walk applied for disability allowance on four separate occasions and was turned down each time simply because of their young age.

“It’s not like I could tell my spine, sorry, you can’t fall apart because you are too young. I could honestly have killed myself with the stress. I cried constantly, I hope to never, ever have to repeat anything like it. In 11 months, I had seven medical assessments.”

"Not being believed was one of the hardest things. It took 16 months in total to get disability allowance — it was so cruel. On my last ever assessment the lady doctor was actually horrified I had been turned down so often, she said she would fix everything, and she did.”

For Companies 

Wage subsidy scheme

Offered by The Department of Social Protection, entitles the employer to €5.30 per hour for every hour worked, provided employment is for a minimum of 21 hours per week.

Reasonable Accommodation Fund

Under the Reasonable Accommodation Fund, the department can help employers and employees with a disability to take appropriate measures to help a person with a disability to access, improve or retain their employment by providing the following grants:

  • The Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant (WEAG) A grant that goes towards the cost of developing a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment.
    • if you need a more accessible workplace or adapted equipment to do your job, you or your employer may be able to get a grant towards the costs of making these changes under the WEAG scheme
  • The Job Interview Interpreter Grant (JIIG) A grant for jobseekers who are deaf, hard of hearing or have a speech impairment to have an interpreter present at interviews occuring within the private sector.
    • if you are a jobseeker who is deaf, hard of hearing or has a speech impairment and you are attending job interviews with private sector employers, you may apply for funding to have a sign language interpreter or other interpreter attend the interviews with you under the JIIG scheme
    • The Department of Social Protection (DSP) will pay the interpreter a fee for a half-day session (up to three hours). The rate ranges from €95 to €205, depending on the duration and the interpreter’s qualifications.
    • DSP will also pay the interpreter’s travel costs – either the cost of their fare on public transport or a rate of €0.25 per km where no public transport is available.
  • The Employee Retention Grant (ERG) Funding that helps employers to explore an ill or impaired employee’s continuing ability to operate as a member of the workforce.
  • Disability Awareness Support Scheme (DASS) A grant for private sector employers to arrange and pay for disability awareness training for staff who work with a colleague who has a disability. 
EmployAbility Service

A free confidential service, supported by The Department of Social Protection, and works to place people with disabilities in employment of their choice, based on their personal interests and capabilities. It offers a free job matching and employment placement service that matches your specific recruitment needs.

JobsPlus

JobsPlus is an employer incentive which encourages and rewards employers who employ job seekers on the Live Register. Employers are paid an incentive monthly in arrears over a 2-year period. It provides 2 levels of regular payments, €7,500 and €10,000 respectively.

Remote Work

The sudden shift to remote work has also presented opportunities for some persons with disabilities. The concept and practice of remote working has been a feature of the working life of those persons with disabilities who have had access to reasonable accommodation measures that provide flexible and part time work. The NDA advises that a move to adopt a more widespread remote working strategy would mean more people with disabilities can be facilitated to work, as some often cite transport issues and the work environment as challenges to getting and retaining a job. 

The 2019 report on Remote Work in Ireland, developed under Pillar four of Future Jobs Ireland 2019, is concerned with increasing participation in the labour force and recognised how remote working can increase inclusion of persons with disabilities in the workforce. This was followed by the National Remote Working Strategy, published in 2021 where the Government commits to facilitating increased remote work in the future in a way that reaps the many benefits and mitigates negative side-effects. 

This strategy recognises the potential benefits to persons with disabilities stating In the case of people with a disability or a chronic illness, remote work offers a substantial opportunity by removing a commute and allowing for a more flexible schedule. Widespread remote working has the potential to attract people with a disability to the workforce whilst creating better opportunities for career progression. 

Accommodating Employees in a WFH Environment 

The Employment Equality Acts oblige employers to make reasonable accommodation for people with disabilities.  An employer must take ‘appropriate measures’ to meet the needs of disabled people in the workforce. This means they must make arrangements that will enable a person who has a disability to:

  • have equal opportunities when applying for work
  • be treated the same as co-workers
  • have equal opportunities for promotion
  • undertake training.

Reasonable accommodation does not mean that an employer has to recruit, promote, retain or provide training to a person who does not have the capacity to do a particular job. However, an employer cannot decide that a person with a disability is incapable of doing a particular job without considering whether there are appropriate measures which they could take to support the person to carry out the required duties.

Appropriate measures mean effective and practical changes that the employer puts in place to enable employees with a disability to carry out their work on an equal footing with others. These include:

  • adapting the premises or the equipment, for example, installing wheelchair ramps, providing special computers for the visually impaired, installing loop systems, and so on;
  • offering flexible working times;
  • providing training or other supports that might help;
  • adjusting an employee’s attendance hours or allowing them to work from home; or
  • assigning an employee certain tasks, and substituting others for equivalent duties, in consultation with the employee.

The employer is not obliged to provide anything that the person would normally provide for themselves. For example, an employer would not be expected to provide hearing aids for a person with impaired hearing.

In order to know which appropriate measures to put in place, employers need to understand the practical needs of people with disabilities, including those of people with experience of mental health difficulties.  This can be gained through consultation with employees with disabilities, through additional information on this website and through guidance from the National Disability Authority.

An employer might not have to provide these types of appropriate measures if it meant that the employer would suffer a ‘disproportionate burden’. In order to establish what a ‘disproportionate burden’ is for the employer, several things are taken into account.

These include:

  • the financial cost of the measures involved
  • other costs involved, for example, staff time or impact on productivity
  • the size and financial resources of the employer’s business.

Before an employer can claim that providing reasonable accommodation measures or facilities would place them under a ‘disproportionate burden’, they must look at the possibility of obtaining public funding, grants and so on. If help is available to them, it might make the changes possible. Many reasonable accommodation measures would not necessarily have a cost implication – such as flexible work arrangements or facilitating part-time work.

Lived Experience #4

An Irish resident with limited body mobility says that the flexibility that comes with remote work is incentive enough to favor it. However, they prefer a hybrid set up to get the best of both worlds while being able to manage their energy efficiently.

"An employer might think it’s a lot easier and cheaper to keep a person with disabilities working from home rather than build accessibility into the workplace – and that’s isolating for a person with disabilities if their only option is working from home. And if they don’t get basic support like good transport, then it can’t work for them."

“For remote working to be meaningful, especially in rural areas, it needs to be supported with proper services like transport. I’m not even talking about big routes, it’s super local instead. A small route to go to the nearest shop and back. Without that, I’d not consider going back [to rural areas].”

This page was last updated on 
03 May, 2022,
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