While an employer must not directly discriminate against its employee, or subject him/her to harassment on grounds that the employee is associated with a disabled person, it is not obliged to make reasonable adjustments in respect of its employee in order to accommodate the disability of that other, disabled, person.
In Hainsworth –v- Ministry of Defence, Ms Hainsworth was employed by the MoD and based in Germany. Her daughter has Down’s Syndrome. The MoD provides facilities for education of employees’ children but these are not designed to cater for children with such significant needs. As a result, the daughter could not be educated in the garrison.
Ms Hainsworth requested a transfer to the UK to assist her in meeting her daughter’s education needs. This request was refused. Ms Hainsworth’s claim that the MoD should have made reasonable adjustments owing to her daughter’s disability failed in the Court of Appeal on the grounds outlined above.
Employers are only obliged to make reasonable adjustments in respect of job applicants and employees who are themselves disabled. However, it may be good practice for an employer to do what it can to assist an employee with a disabled family member.
As outlined in the accompanying update on flexible working reforms, an employee may make a request for flexible working arrangements to assist in their management of, for example, the needs of a disabled family member. In addition, mothers with responsibility for the care of a sick child may be able to bring a claim for indirect sex discrimination if requests for flexibility are rejected as a matter of policy.