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Case update (2): Disability discrimination – goodbye to discrimination by association in respect of reasonable adjustments


Summary: Does an employer’s duty to make reasonable adjustments extend to an employee associated with a disabled person?

No, says the Court of Appeal in Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence, available here.

Facts: The employee was employed by the Ministry of Defence. She was not herself disabled, but her 17-year old daughter had Down’s Syndrome. The employee’s daughter wished to undertake training which could not be undertaken in Germany, where she was based. The employee, therefore, sought to move her place of work from Germany to a different country where such training could be carried out. The Ministry of Defence refused the employee’s application.

The employee brought claims against the Ministry of Defence, including of associative disability discrimination. She claimed that the Ministry of Defence had failed to make reasonable adjustments by not changing her work location, where such a change would have enabled her to cater for her disabled daughter’s needs.

The Court of Appeal has upheld the EAT’s decision that it is clear from the Equality Act 2010 that the duty to make reasonable adjustments only applies where the employee or job applicant is disabled. The duty does not apply to associative disability discrimination. The Court of Appeal refused to refer the case to the ECJ.

Implications: This decision is very helpful for employers as it confirms that the duty to make reasonable adjustments does not apply to associative disability discrimination. However, employers should remember that associative disability discrimination claims can still be brought in respect of direct discrimination and harassment claims.

Also, it is worth noting that female employees responsible for an ill child an employee struggling to cope because of family reasons could make a request for flexible working. If that request were refused, that employee might be able to bring a claim for indirect sex discrimination if the employer insisted unjustifiably that the employee must remain at her current workplace.

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