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25 October 2013

Discrimination by association

Under the Equality Act 2010, direct discrimination occurs when someone is treated less favourably than another person because of their association with someone who has a protected characteristic.

A recent Employment Tribunal (ET) case (Price v Action Tec Services Limited) illustrates the protection afforded by the Act.

Rachel Price, who suffered from a degenerative back condition which necessitated regular hospital visits, worked for Action Tec Services Limited as a telesales executive. Following a probationary period, she was made a permanent member of staff in February 2011.

At the beginning of March 2011, Mrs Price arranged to take time off work to accompany her husband, who had been diagnosed with leukaemia, to hospital for a series of tests. The results revealed that his prognosis was not good. Although Mrs Price attended work the next day, she found it difficult to concentrate. The following week, she saw her GP and was signed off sick for seven days.

On her return to work, Mrs Price was asked to attend a meeting to discuss concerns over her performance. The manager responsible for recruitment and training said that he would not have employed her if he had known about her husband’s illness, and her employment was terminated with immediate effect.

Mrs Price brought a claim of disability discrimination.

The ET upheld her claim. Action Tec Services Limited had not adopted a fair procedure in dismissing Mrs Price. The company could have taken steps to monitor her performance but had instead proceeded to dismiss her on the ‘stereotypical assumption’ that her own and her husband’s disabilities meant that she would be an unreliable and under-performing employee.

In the ET’s view, this assumption would not have been made in the case of a non-disabled employee with the same attendance record. This was, therefore, a case of direct discrimination on account of Mrs Price’s own disability and also discrimination by association on account of her husband’s disability.

Jo Davis, practice group leader in the employment law team at B P Collins comments: “Employers should take care not to disadvantage employees who have responsibility for someone with a protected characteristic, for example a disabled child or an elderly relative.”

For more information on to ensure you don’t fall foul of direct discrimination and protect characteristics, contact Jo on 01753 278659 or email employmentlaw@bpcollins.co.uk

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