Landmark victory for carers in Sharon Coleman case

Some six million carers have won the same legal protection against discrimination that is given to disabled people. The European Court of Justice has ruled that discrimination at work is not limited to a disabled person themselves, but also to people who are directly associated.

The Landmark case has been a long struggle for one determined woman, Sharon Coleman. After giving birth to her disabled son in 2002, Ms Coleman approached her Employer, Attridge Law to make flexible working arrangements. The firm did not provide suitable adjustments to help deal with her new circumstances and Ms Coleman was forced to take voluntary redundancy.

5 months later she began a claim for constructive dismissal. Ms Coleman claimed that she had received discriminatory treatment as her sons condition meant she was treated less favourably then other employees. She had been given no options by her employer but to end her employment.

The case was initially heard at an Employment Tribunal, which referred the case to the European Court of Justice to see if current EU legislation could apply to people caring for a disabled person. Carers around the UK waited in anticipation for the decision, a ruling in favour would provide new protection for some six million carers in the UK.

After the hearing the ruling Ms Coleman said:

"All I was ever asking for was an equal playing field with the same flexibility afforded to my colleagues without disabled children”

The case will now return to the UK and will be heard by the tribunal that originally referred it for clarification. The tribunal will attempt to interpret the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 to cover discrimination by association, the Act will have to be amended if the tribunal is unable to use current laws . The decision is set to pave the way for other carer’s who may wish to make similar claims, equality lawyers have warned of a floodgate of claims.

The ruling also creates the potential for the law to apply to other strands of discrimination at work by association - whether on grounds of religion or belief, age or sexual orientation.

Campaigning body Carers UK issued the following statement upon news of the ruling.

“This is an historic step towards true equality for carers. Too many carers face discrimination at work, yet they are the bedrock of our communities and society.

This landmark judgement will have huge implications for discrimination and employment law as employers will now have to ensure that carers in their workforce are not treated differently to others employees. Carers already have the right to request flexible working, but this new ruling will give them greater protection. At a time when we have a shortage of skilled workers, it makes good business sense for employers to support the carers in their workforce. After all, one in seven employees have caring responsibilities outside work.

This ruling follows hot on the heels of the Government’s National Strategy for Carers and its proposals for the forthcoming Equality Bill. Neither contained any measures aimed at eliminating discrimination against carers. In the light of today’s judgement we strongly urge the Government to rethink its approach when it publishes its response to the Discrimination Law Review consultation and the Equality Bill."


Posted by Asif Yusuf



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