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Limit on duty to make reasonable adjustments

Posted by TonyBrownEmploymentSolicitor on June 13, 2014

The Equality Act 2010 prohibits direct discrimination and harassment against employees who, though not disabled themselves, are treated less favourably or harassed because of the disability of someone with whom they are associated. 

However, the Court of Appeal has recently confirmed that the duty to make reasonable adjustments in the Equality Act applies only to employees who are themselves disabled.

In that case, the Claimant, who was not disabled, had a daughter with a learning disability and whose special educational needs could not be met in Germany where the Claimant worked as a civilian employee of the British Army. The Claimant requested a transfer to the UK to enable her to cater for her disabled daughter’s needs. Her request was refused and the Claimant brought a claim alleging that the MOD had failed to make reasonable adjustments by not changing her work location. 

The EAT ruled that there was no arguable claim. Both the EAT and now the Court of Appeal, held that the duty to make reasonable adjustments only applies to adjustments for the assistance of disabled employees or prospective employees, and the duty could not be stretched to cover a disabled person associated with an employee.


It is quite common for employers to be confronted with the argument that the duty to make reasonable adjustments extends to making adjustments for an employee who, for example, is caring for a disabled relative.

The ruling in this case makes it clear that the duty to make reasonable adjustments is owed only to a disabled employee. What the ruling means is that employers cannot be sued for failing to make reasonable adjustments requested by an employee who is caring for a disabled relative.

However, an employee with caring responsibilities would be entitled to make an application for flexible working. From 30 June the right to request flexible working will apply to all employees (with 26 weeks’ service) and not just those who have caring responsibilities or children.

If you would like advice about how the issues in this note apply to your situation, please contact me.

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