Carer with ‘phobia of soiled nappies’ loses discrimination case

Inspector ‘at a complete loss’ to understand complainant’s choice of career

The man’s employer, an organisation which provides services to people with disabilities,  said ‘intimate care’ including changing nappies was among the core duties of care assistants. File image: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

The man’s employer, an organisation which provides services to people with disabilities, said ‘intimate care’ including changing nappies was among the core duties of care assistants. File image: Jonathan Brady/PA Wire

 

A care assistant who claimed his phobia of soiled nappies constituted a disability has lost a discrimination case against his former employer – a voluntary organisation for people with disabilities.

The worker remained on sick leave for over three years and reported that he had tried to take his own life because he “couldn’t deal with the prospect of having to deal with nappies”.

He was eventually dismissed on grounds of incapacity last year, and complained to the Workplace Relations Commission (WRC) that he had been discriminated against and victimised due to his disability.

The WRC heard that the former care assistant began working with the disability organisation in March 2006, and informed his employer of his phobia of soiled nappies as early as three months later.

The organisation, which provides services to people with severe and profound disabilities, maintained that “intimate care” including changing nappies was among the core duties of care assistants.

Despite this, the complainant continued in the role for eight years but repeatedly asserted his issues with soiled nappies, and sought redeployment to an alternative role that would not require the provision of intimate care.

A meeting was organised in February 2014 to discuss options for the complainant. None of these addressed his phobia of nappies and faecal matter, however, as all care assistant posts with the service provider required intimate care.

He commenced a period of sick leave in May 2014, which continued until his eventual dismissal in June 2017 except for a number of short trials in different areas of the service.

During one of these trials, the complainant told the WRC that he suffered a mental breakdown and attempted suicide because he couldn’t deal with the prospect of changing soiled nappies.

In his decision, WRC Adjudication Officer James Kelly said that the “unavoidable conclusion” of the complainant’s own submission was that he was unable to perform the core duties of the job for which he was employed.

He added that he had researched phobias and read about the extreme lengths to which sufferers will go in order to avoid exposure to their particular fears.

Mr Kelly was therefore “at a complete loss” to understand how the complainant could have decided to pursue a career as a care assistant for disabled people when he knew that he had a phobia of soiled nappies.

Dismissing the complaint, Mr Kelly found that the employer had not discriminated against the complainant on grounds of disability by terminating his employment; that he had not been victimised; and that the organisation had not failed in its obligation to provide reasonable accommodation.