Discrimination by Association

By: Mike Idziaszczyk

The European Court of Justice has ruled that a woman has suffered 'discrimination by association' after being treated unfairly at work because of her care responsibilities for her disabled son. Ms Coleman said that she was 'harassed' into resigning and described as 'lazy' by her boss because she wanted to work flexibly to look after her son. Although Ms Coleman's colleagues were allowed to take time off to attend hospital appointments or able to work from home, her requests to do so were not approved.

The European Court found in favour of Ms Coleman as disability discrimination under the EU's Equal Treatment Directive's applies not only to those who suffer from a disability but others, for example a parent or spouse.

Implications for Employers

Many organisations are interested in implementing diversity strategies but seem unsure of what it means and how to go about it. At Pearn Kandola we advocate an 'Inclusive' approach where people are treated as individuals rather than as part of a group. This approach means that policies are designed to be flexible enough to respond to individual needs. Previously bureaucratic policies become inclusive and do not discriminate unfairly against any individual.

Organisations providing flexible working options have become more commonplace. Providing the right flexible working options is not only important in terms of complying with legislation, as demonstrated by Ms Coleman's case, but also in terms of having a committed and effective workforce. Research has found that employees who work for organisations who offer flexible working options are more committed to their organisation, more likely to help colleagues, suggest improvements and voluntarily attend meetings. Also, employees who feel their company is supportive and treats its employees fairly tend to be happier in their jobs.

Organisations wanting to implement flexible working options in compliance with diversity and best practice advice should consider the following points:

&bull All jobs should be open to flexible working arrangements unless strong evidence can be given as to why this is not appropriate.
&bull Requests to work flexibly should be dealt with on a case by case basis.
&bull All employees should be made aware of the process they need to go through in order to apply for flexible working and where to find sources of support.
&bull All managers should be made aware of the process for dealing with requests (e.g. what they need to take into consideration, the criteria) and the sources of support they can refer to.
&bull All employees should be treated fairly with regards to training, development and promotion opportunities regardless of their working pattern.

Human Resources
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