Leader magazineASCL - Association of School and College Leaders

Grounds for discrimination?

The case of Sharon Coleman, heard by the European Court of Justice over the summer, could impact the working conditions of those caring for disabled relatives.

The essential issue was whether a person not herself disabled could claim discrimination because of her relationship with a disabled person - in this case a child for whom she was sole carer.

On Ms Coleman's return from maternity leave, she alleges (the case has not yet gone to tribunal), her employer refused to allow her to return to her existing job, whereas parents of non-disabled children had done so; refused her the same flexibility of working hours and conditions and described her as lazy when she requested time off to care for her child, whereas parents of non-disabled children were allowed time off; and made abusive and insulting comments about her and her child.

The court decided that the employment tribunal may consider her discrimination claim. The consequence of this judgement is that discrimination 'on the grounds of' can be interpreted to cover anyone who is discriminated against because of their relationship with a person who is disabled.

The implications are that flexible working requests by carers of disabled relatives (though not carers of relatives who do not fall into the discrimination categories) will have to be considered even more carefully than they are now.

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