The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told the Court of Appeal on 13 May that employers should, as far as is reasonable, make adjustments to support employees who are caring for disabled family members.
The case, in which the commission intervened as a third party to assist the court, involves Dr Christine Hainsworth and the Ministry of Defence (MOD).
Dr Hainsworth worked for the MOD and was stationed in Germany. She requested a transfer to the UK to enable her disabled daughter’s special educational needs to be met. However, her request was refused and she claimed unlawful disability discrimination.
Her claim had previously been rejected by the employment tribunal and the employment appeals tribunal.
The EHRC said a failure by an employer to make changes to working arrangements, known as ‘reasonable adjustments’, may well have a knock-on effect on a carer’s ability to continue working, and on a disabled person’s ability to train, find or retain work.
The commission 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 employee and, if so, whether EU directives can be read into the Equality Act 2010.
Rebecca Hilsenrath, chief legal officer at the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “Equality and human rights legislation is here to protect everyone and the duty to make reasonable adjustments should benefit everyone.
“There are three million employees in England and Wales who provide huge value and a vital service to the country as unpaid carers. Many of them look after disabled family members.
“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.
“In this way, carers achieve a decent work-life balance and employers continue to derive the economic benefit of motivated, experienced staff.”