Employee Discriminated Against Because of His Wife’s Disability

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It is unlawful to treat an employee less favourably than others because of somebody else’s disability. Atlas Ward Structures Ltd is an engineering company employing approximately 1,000 workers. Mr Bainbridge was employed by the company as a welder. He was appointed as a “temporary employee” under a three-month fixed term contract in December 2010. He performed well and his contract was renewed in March 2011 and again in July 2011 at which time there were 12 welders employed in the business on temporary contracts. Mr Bainbridge’s wife had medical issues and was disabled for the purposes of discrimination law. In September/October 2011, the company reviewed the factory’s staffing levels and the Works Director, Mr Pratt, decided that the company needed one less welder and one less paint sprayer. The factory supervisors were consulted and the two workers were selected who were not to have their temporary contracts renewed and one of these was Mr Bainbridge. Mrs Woodhead who managed the company’s personnel matters wrote to Mr Bainbridge informing him that his contract would not be renewed. Mr Pratt also told Mr Bainbridge that his contract was not going to be renewed and Mr Bainbridge expressed surprise as he was unaware of any possibility of redundancies and had thought his contract would be renewed again. When asked why he had been selected, Mr Pratt did not respond. Mr Bainbridge spoke to Mrs Woodhead and asked her the same question, saying he thought his contract was not being renewed because of his wife’s disability as the amount of time he had had to take off at short notice had “irritated” Mr Pratt. It was established at the Employment Tribunal hearing that ensued that all of the time Mr Bainbridge had taken off, including time taken off at very short notice, had always been with the permission of the company. He had used his holiday entitlement apart from one occasion when he was permitted additional special leave. Mrs Woodhead told him that this was not the reason he had been selected but could not give the real reason. Mr Bainbridge appealed against what he called “termination of his employment on the grounds of discrimination by association” on 12th October, 2011 following advice from Acas. Mrs Woodhead wrote to him on 14th October offering him an extension to his contract of four weeks which he accepted. His wife needed more help from him and on 21st October he told the Company he was unable to work as he needed to care for his wife. He never attended work again as he believed he had been discriminated against. Mrs Woodhead responded to his appeal in writing on 16th November, 2011 stating that he had only ever been employed on a temporary contract and could not have had any expectation of “continued, longer-term employment” and that as there was a downturn in orders, the company’s requirements for temporary staff had diminished and Mr Bainbridge had effectively been made redundant. Mr Bainbridge was never given a reason why he had been selected as opposed to any of the other 11 temporary welders and claimed that the company had directly discriminated against him on the grounds of his wife having a disability in selecting him over other employees in comparable roles. The employment tribunal questioned why Mr Bainbridge had been selected as on the evidence before the tribunal Mr Bainbridge was very well respected and regarded by the Company and had good experience and qualifications. His attendance record was good apart from the occasions when he had had to take leave at short notice to care for his wife and there was “no obvious or apparent reasons” why he had been selected. Evidence was also brought by Mr Bainbridge that other employees who had been taken on after him had had their contracts renewed. Mrs Woodhead was unable to explain the reason for his selection other than the factory requiring “flexibility and versatility” from the workforce. The tribunal accepted that Mr Bainbridge was a flexible and versatile worker. Mrs Woodhead said that his short-notice absences might have caused problems on occasion but nobody had ever commented to her on that. The tribunal accepted that “in the absence of any other plausible reason”, Mr Bainbridge had been selected because he had occasionally to take time off at short notice which inconvenienced the company and that it had directly discriminated against him. Mr Bainbridge requested his job back as it was close to home and he had enjoyed working there. Atlas Ward Structures did not oppose this and said they were likely to have a suitable vacancy within three months. Mr Bainbridge was awarded £10,500 in compensation and the recommendation that the company should offer him a position as a welder on his previous terms and condition by no later than 8th September, 2012 and that he should be given no less than two weeks’ notice to accept or reject the offer. If he returned to work, he must be treated as having been continuously employed since 14th December 2010 and the company must pay him compensation to cover any financial losses he had suffered between 30th May, 2012 and his reinstatement. This case demonstrates how careful employers must be not to unintentionally discriminate against employees who have caring responsibilities for disabled relatives and they should be treated fairly and no differently than other employees. Always ensure that any decision regarding an employee’s continued employment is made with supporting evidence.

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