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What employers need to know: October 2013 case law updates

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Important decisions from the UK courts and tribunals and the European Court of Human Rights this month highlight three important lessons for employers.

Firstly, Hainsworth v Ministry of Defence confirmed that employers do not have a duty to make reasonable adjustments where an individual, typically a carer, has an association with a disabled person. However, an employer could still face a claim of associative disability discrimination in relation to direct discrimination and harassment. For example, a woman who is not promoted because she has a disabled child and her employer thinks that she could not devote sufficient time to increased duties.

Secondly, Lockwood v Department for Work and Pensions and another, confirmed that an employer making higher severance payments under a voluntary redundancy scheme to older employees did not need to consider age-related differences between the claimant and their comparator when deciding whether or not the claimant suffered less favourable treatment because of their age. However, employers should exercise caution as they must show that the differential treatment is a proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim.

Finally, in IB v Greece, the European Court of Human Rights held that a Greek employer breached the human rights of an HIV-positive employee who was dismissed as a result of pressure from colleagues. This case is especially meaningful as UK law goes further than the law in most European countries. UK law makes specific provision in the Equality Act 2010 for a person with HIV to be deemed to have a disability, giving them protection against discrimination from the point of diagnosis. It is important therefore that UK employers do not dismiss an employee simply for testing HIV positive, even where colleagues complain about having to work with them.

By Rebecca Walmsley, employment law team