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Discrimination by Association

An employee who did not have a disability herself was recently successful in making a claim for indirect discrimination. The employment tribunal case of Follows v Nationwide Building Society involved an employee who was a carer for her disabled mother.


Mrs Follows was a senior lending manager whose employment terms allowed her to work from home two to three days a week to care for her disabled mother. Her employer, Nationwide, was aware of her mother’s disability.

When the building society made a decision to reduce the number of senior lending managers, some were to be made redundant and the remainder were to be office-based.

During the redundancy consultation process, Mrs Follows requested to remain home working. Nationwide decided to make her redundant even though they had enough offers of voluntary redundancy to satisfy their requirements.

Mrs Follows claimed that Nationwide had indirectly discriminated against her and won her case. The Employment Tribunal concluded that Nationwide’s policy that all senior lending managers should be office based put her at a substantial disadvantage, even though she did not have a relevant ‘protected characteristic’ herself. 


Many employers will be unaware of the possibility of discriminating by association. Moreover, this case is a reminder to all organisations that new policies and procedures can inadvertently put some staff at a disadvantage, whether they have a ‘protected characteristic’ themselves or have a close association with someone who does.