The Court of Appeal’s recent decision in Hainsworth v
Ministry of Defence is good news for employers, confirming that the duty to
make reasonable adjustments does not extend to an employee who is associated
with someone who is disabled. The duty to
make reasonable adjustments continues to apply where an employee or a job
applicant is disabled.
In this case, Mr Hainsworth made a request to transfer her
place of work from Germany to the UK.
This was to assist her in meeting the special needs of her daughter who
has Downs Syndrome and disabled within the meaning of the Equality Act. This request was refused. Mrs Hainsworth
brought a claim for disability discrimination on the basis that granting her
request would have been a reasonable adjustment which her employer should have
made for her due to her association with her disabled daughter. The Court of Appeal rejected this argument.
Whilst this decision confirms that employees cannot bring
claims for reasonable adjustments based on associative discrimination,
employees are still protected under the Equality Act from harassment on grounds
of the protected characteristic of someone other than the person being
subjected to the harassment. Similarly,
the definition of direct discrimination extends to associative discrimination.
It is also worth noting that now that the right to request
flexible working has been extended to all employees with at least 26 weeks
service, employers are likely to see more applications made as a result of an
associative protected characteristic, with disability being the most obvious. Whilst employers will not be required to make
reasonable adjustments in those situations, care should be taken when
considering flexible working requests to avoid breaching the regulations or
facing discrimination claims.