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No Obligation on Employers to make Reasonable Adjustments For Disabled Relatives of Employees

Meredith Hurst Monday, June 16, 2014

The Court of Appeal has held that the provisions of the Equal Treatment Directive and the Equality Act 2010 do not require employers to make reasonable adjustments for an employee who is not disabled but who claims that reasonable adjustments should be made by the employer to accommodate difficulties in the workplace caused for them by their association with a disabled person.

Under section 20(3) of the Equality Act 2010 an employer is under a duty to make "reasonable adjustments" where a provision, criterion or practice ("PCP") puts a disabled person employed by them at a substantial disadvantage in relation to a relevant matter compared with a person who is not disabled. This means that the employer must take such steps as are reasonable to avoid the disadvantage. This protection applies to both employees and applicants for employment.

The case of Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence [2014] EWCA Civ 763 concerns a claim by a civilian employee of the Ministry of Defence who attempted to argue that the duty to make reasonable adjustments gave protection not only to employees or applicants for employment who were disabled but non-disabled employees or applicants who were associated with a disabled person. The facts of the case were that the Claimant worked at an army base inGermany. She had a daughter who suffered from Down's syndrome and was therefore a disabled person within the meaning of section 6 of the Equality Act 2010. The Ministry of Defence provided schooling for the children of civilian employees at the base but was unable to provide the special schooling that the Claimant's child required by reason of her disability. The Claimant applied for compassionate transfer back to theUK, where her daughter would be able to receive the special schooling she required. The transfer application was refused. The Claimant submitted a claim to an Employment Tribunal, her case being that the MOD was under a duty to make a reasonable adjustment by allowing her application. Although not disabled herself she argued that because she was associated with a disabled person, in this case, her daughter, she was protected by her employer's duty to make reasonable adjustments for disabled employees. She argued that the Equality Act 2010 should be interpreted in this way in order to comply with European law.

The Employment Tribunal rejected her claim and the Court of Appeal agreed that this was the correct outcome. It held that European law, in the form of the Equality Directive, did not require that the duty to make reasonable adjustments should include employees who were not disabled but were associated with a disabled person, and there was no basis for interpreting the Equality Act 2010 in a way that would grant such protection.

The decision should be welcomed by employers. As the Court of Appeal noted on the employee's case there were no limits on the disabled persons who an employee could claim to be associated with so as to trigger the duty to make reasonable adjustments. This meant that if the employee's case had succeeded then employers would be under a very wide-ranging duty to take account of and accommodate not only of the disabilities of their employees but disabled persons who their non-disabled employees might not even be related to, such as friends.