The recent decision in the case of EBR Attridge Law (formerly Attridge Law) and another v Coleman has raised some interesting issues in relation to the employment rights of those who care for dependents with a disability.
Before we look at the implications of this decision, it is important to remember that carers already have special rights in the workplace, in particular under the flexible working regulations and the regulations relating to time off for domestic emergencies.
Q On what grounds can an employer turn down a request for an adjustment from the carer of a disabled dependent?
A Under the flexible working regulations, an employer can only turn down a request for flexible working on one of the business-related grounds specified under the regulations. These include reasons such as a detrimental effect on ability to meet customer demand, and a detrimental effect on quality or performance.
Q What is the definition of 'dependent' in terms of the relevant regulations?
A An employee may request flexible working arrangements to care for a disabled child under the age of 18, or any person for whom they care who is their spouse, partner or civil partner, their relative, or someone living at the same address. The employee must have been continuously employed for at least 26 weeks to make such a request.
Eligibility under the domestic emergencies legislation is much wider. An employee may take reasonable unpaid time off work to deal with emergency care arrangements for any adult who reasonably relies on the employee to assist him or her if ill or injured, or who relies on the employee to make arrangements to provide care for them. This could include a relative, friend or neighbour.
Under both sets of legislation, the adult in question need not necessarily be disabled within the legal definition.
Q If an employer suspects an employee who asks for adjustments is not telling the truth, what proof may be requested?
A It may be appropriate to request a letter from the dependent's GP. This should clarify the condition of the dependent, the nature of the relationship with the employee, and the amount of care required.
Q What penalties may an employer face if it turns down a reasonable request?