20 May 2014

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has told the Court of Appeal that employers should, as far as is reasonable, make adjustments to support members of staff who are caring for disabled family members.

The case, in which the Commission is intervening as a third party to assist the court with expert equality and human rights advice, involves Dr Christine Hainsworth and the Ministry of Defence (MOD).

Stationed in Germany, Dr Hainsworth asked the MOD for a transfer to the UK to enable her disabled daughter’s special educational needs to be met.

When her request was refused, she claimed unlawful disability discrimination. Her claim has, so far, been rejected by the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeals Tribunal (EAT).

Speaking in the case at the Court of Appeal, the EHRC asked the court to consider whether EU legislation obliges an employer to make “reasonable adjustments” where they are required to accommodate the needs of a disabled person who is cared for by the worker; and, if so, whether EU directives can be read into the Equality Act 2010.

The Commission also argued that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities strongly supports Dr Hainsworth’s case and that European law should be interpreted in the light of the Convention.

Commission Chief Legal Officer, Rebecca Hilsenrath, pointed out that there are three million employees in England and Wales who provide “huge value and a vital service” to the country as unpaid carers.

“Carers also provide value to their employers and research suggests that a flexible approach to supporting employees with family responsibilities increases productivity and enhances employee commitment,” she went on.

From Paul Clarke, business writer for Croner.