The law prohibiting employers to discriminate against disabled people extends to their carers, according to a ruling by the European Court

See also: More analysis on new discrimination rules

The law that prohibits employers to discriminate against disabled people is not limited to employees who are themselves disabled it extends to include carers, according to a ruling by the European Court of Justice.

The Court found that a UK mother, Sharon Coleman, was discriminated against by her employer because of her disabled child.

Coleman, who worked as a legal secretary in London, was the primary carer for her disabled child. In August 2005, she filed a claim of unfair constructive dismissal against her employer in a south London Employment Tribunal. In the claim she cited her employer’s refusal to allow her to return to her previous job and to allow her flexible working hours, as well as insulting comments made about her and her child.

The Employment Tribunal referred the matter to the European Court of Justice.

According to the Court the European discrimination directive should not be interpreted strictly to mean only direct discrimination, but rather to the nature of the discrimination.

The Court said: ‘An interpretation limiting its application only to people who are themselves disabled is liable to deprive the directive of an important element of its effectiveness and to reduce the protection which it is intended to guarantee.’

It concluded that less favourable treatment of an employee based on the disability of their child is contrary to the prohibition of discrimination laid down in the Equality Directive.

TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber warned: ‘Employers now need to look at their recruitment and other workplace policies to make sure they are not discriminating against staff who have disabled family members or friends.’