14 October 2015
Associative discrimination in the workplace
The Equality Act 2010 established that associative discrimination is unlawful, subject to the same exceptions that generally apply. Under the Act, direct discrimination occurs when the reason for one person being treated less favourably than another is one of the protected characteristics covered by the Act.
This means that protection is afforded to someone who does not have the protected characteristic but has suffered less favourable treatment because of their association with someone who does, for example an employee with caring responsibility for a disabled child or for an elderly or disabled relative.
In Truman v Bibby Distribution Limited, Mr Truman, whose hours of work were 8:00am to 4:00pm but who often worked longer hours, was dismissed from his job shortly after he made it known that he would soon be spending more time caring for his disabled daughter. The child has cystic fibrosis and her mother, who until then had been the primary carer, was in the process of setting up her own business.
Without any warning, Mr Truman was summoned to a meeting and told that his employment was ended because his performance showed that 'his heart wasn't in the business' and his main customer was dissatisfied with the service he was providing. The meeting took place on the day he completed one year's service with the company.
Mr Truman brought a claim of associative discrimination.
The Employment Tribunal (ET) noted that he had a good employment record and could find no confirmation that there had been customer complaints about his performance. Had his employer been concerned about his competence, it could have taken steps to monitor his performance, but had instead proceeded to dismiss him and could provide no satisfactory evidence in support of its claim regarding his capability.
The ET noted that to qualify for ordinary parental leave, an employee must have completed at least one year's continuous service with their employer, and it was therefore suspicious of the fact that Mr Truman's dismissal occurred just as he became eligible for this benefit.
The ET found that Mr Truman had been subjected to direct discrimination on account of his daughter's disability. The amount of his compensation award has yet to be determined.
Employers should take care not to disadvantage employees who have responsibility for someone with a protected characteristic.