European Court rules that obesity can constitute a disability19 Dec 2014
A recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) decision has found that a 25-stone Danish child minder can be classed as disabled for the purposes of equality legislation and therefore qualify for statutory protection against discrimination.
The Court emphasised that obesity in itself is not a disability, but will constitute a disability if it causes a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out normal day–to-day activities.
The ECJ ruled that obesity is likely to constitute a disability if it “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”. The Court did not give an indication of the likely BMI of a person who could be classed as disabled by virtue of their obesity, but stated instead that judgment would be made on a case by case basis. What will be examined is the effect of the obesity on the individual in question rather than the degree of obesity.
For employers, this decision does not mean that any employee who is obese will be automatically protected under the Equality Act 2010. It does mean that employers need to carefully consider whether any employees who are obese suffer any health problems (physical, mental or psychological) as a result of their obesity that could bring them within the protection of the Equality Act as a disabled person. This judgement clarifies that an employee does not need to have an underlying medical condition and it does not matter how or why the employee came to be obese.
Employers must therefore ensure they do not treat a person, including a prospective employee, differently because of their obesity. It also places an obligation on employers to make adjustments, perhaps to furniture or the work environment, to accommodate obese employees.
If you require any further advice on this issue please contact Kuits’ Employment Team on 0161 838 7806 or contact us.