The duty to make reasonable adjustments

12 Sep 2014

The case of Coleman v Attridge Law found that an individual could be discriminated against because of their association with a disabled person. For example, if an individual is dismissed because their child was disabled and, as a result, they were likely to take significant amounts of time off work to care for that child, then that dismissal would be automatically unfair. This decision was then enshrined in the Equality Act 2010.

The Court of Appeal has now gone on to consider whether there is also a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an employee associated with a disabled person. In the case of Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence, the Claimant had a child with Down Syndrome and requested compassionate transfer to the UK to enable her to access special education and training facilities. Unfortunately, this request was denied. The Claimant brought a claim alleging that this refusal amounted to a failure to make reasonable adjustments for a disabled person associated with her.

The Court of Appeal has determined that the duty to make reasonable adjustments only extends to making adjustments for the assistance of disabled employees or workers, and, as such, does not extend to disabled people associated with those employees.

Our view…

Whilst it is, of course, always desirable to support employees in any way that is reasonable for the purposes of good employee relationships, in our view, this is a sensible limiting approach by the courts as, in the event that the duty to make reasonable adjustments in respect of employees associated with disabled people was implemented, this would place a very wide and onerous duty on employers.