In Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence, Hainsworth was a civilian employee attached to the British armed forces and was required to work, predominantly, at the Paderborn Garrison in Germany. Her daughter, Charlotte, has Down’s syndrome, and is a disabled person within the meaning of S.6 of the Equality Act 2010 (EA 2010). Charlotte could not be schooled at the MoD’s facilities in Germany because it did not cater for her special needs. Hainsworth requested a transfer to the UK to be able to meet her daughter’s requirements, but the Mod rejected her request. An employment tribunal and the EAT rejected her claim against the MoD for failing to make reasonable adjustments, i.e. allowing her to transfer to the UK, because she was ‘associated’ with a disabled person. Hainsworth appealed.
In the Court of Appeal (CA), it was conceded that under the EA 2010, the duty to make a reasonable adjustment only applies where a provision, criterion or practice puts a disabled employee or applicant at a substantial disadvantage and therefore Hainsworth’s daughter could not benefit from this provision. However, Hainsworth argued that Article 5 of the Equal Treatment Directive 2000/78/EC, Reasonable accommodation for disabled persons, gave her the right to an adjustment to her employment in order to accommodate her disabled daughter’s needs.
The CA disagreed and rejected Hainsworth’s appeal. The CA focused on the part of Article 5 which states: This means that employers shall take appropriate measures, where needed in a particular case, to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment, or to undergo training, unless such measures would impose a disproportionate burden on the employer. Therefore, Article 5 did not support her case as it only applies to an employer’s duty to its employees or prospective employees.
The two practical points arising from this case are that: (i) the situation regarding reasonable adjustments is different from the law relating to direct discrimination and harassment, where the disability giving rise to a claim does not have to be that of the person discriminated against, or harassed, but can be that of another person with whom that individual is associated; (ii) while the law may not support a person in Ms Hainsworth’s position, clearly she was faced with a very difficult situation in wanting to do her best for her daughter, so from a purely good employment relations perspective, employers should consider whether they are able to provide assistance in such circumstances.