Disability discrimination extension leaves private sector open to claims

An employment lawyer has urged private sector employers to check their policies on carers in the workplace following a UK employment tribunal ruling in the landmark Sharon Coleman case.

Coleman is suing her employer, Attridge Law, claiming she was forced to quit her job after she requested time off to look after her four-year-old disabled son.

In July, the European Court of Justice ruled that able-bodied people could be unlawfully subjected to disability discrimination. This gave public sector workers with caring responsibilities a greater level of protection.

Now an employment tribunal judge has ruled that private sector workers in the UK have the same rights.

Selwyn Blyth, employment lawyer with Pinsent Masons, says the decision in Coleman will significantly “beef up” requests for flexible working.
Ed Williams, employment and discrimination specialist at law firm Cloisters Chambers, said: “The decision will be a relief for those workers in the private sector who feel they are being discriminated against because of their association with a disabled person. They can now take their grievance to their employer with the knowledge that they have some kind of legal back up.”

Private sector firms must also consider their flexible working policies, as the latest ruling will give greater power to employees if their request for flexible work is turned down.

“Parents of young and disabled children, and carers of adults, already have a right to request flexible working, but this ruling now gives a carer’s challenge against an employer’s decision far more teeth.” said Williams.

The Coleman case is ongoing. Coleman joined Attridge Law as a legal secretary in 2001. A year later, she gave birth to a son who has serious respiratory problems.

She claimed managers called her ‘lazy’ when she requested time off to care for him. She accepted voluntary redundancy, but later brought a claim for constructive dismissal and disability discrimination.

Comments are closed.