The Need for Reasonable Adjustments for Carers
Disabled people are entitled to have reasonable adjustments made in their workplace conditions in order to ensure that they are able to work and can do so effectively. This right is provided for under the 2010 Equality Act.
In 2014 the Court of Appeal decided that this right is not available to carers. In that case the mother of a 17 year old with Down’s Syndrome was unable to seek a reasonable adjustment to her place of work in order that she could continue in work and conduct her duties as a carer.
We do not think that this is fair or right. The position has to change.
Under current law, a carer can only request flexible working. This right is not good enough, particularly when compared with the right to reasonable adjustments.
This is because there is a legal duty on an employer to make reasonable adjustments but there is no duty to agree to flexible working, and an employee only has the right to request the same.
What is more, as Mr Justice Kerr said in an Employment Appeal Tribunal in 2014: “it is not for the Employment Tribunal to judge the reasonableness of an employer’s refusal to provide flexible working”. So when considering a carer’s request for flexible working under the relevant law, an employer does not even have to act reasonably.
This is completely unacceptable. Indeed, we have conducted a survey and discovered that of those carers who apply for flexible working, a shocking 52% have their application refused. Additionally, 72% of those responding to the survey told us either that they want to work or they want to work more, and would do so if they could work flexibly.
Yet the weakness of the right to apply for flexible working stands in their way. A simple amendment to the Equality Act could resolve this by permitting carers the same rights to reasonable adjustments as are currently given to disabled people.
This would send a powerful message to both carers and the business community to the effect that a carer is to be accommodated in the workplace in the same way as a disabled person. This would be suitable recognition of the substantial contribution to society that carers make, whilst making it easier for carers to remain in fulfilling employment, thereby reducing the need for reliance on benefits. Moreover, it would provide a framework for the retention by business of the talent that carers provide, with the savings in costs by business that this would promote.
Some real life cases of carers impacted by the current legal position are set out below.