Back

Obesity and Disability

The European Court of Justice (the “ECJ”) has handed down an important decision relating to obesity and discrimination law following a claim brought in Denmark by a Mr Kaltoft.

Mr Kaltoft had been working as a child-minder for a local authority for 15 years when he was dismissed in 2010. The reason given for his dismissal was that there had been a reduction in the number of children (a redundancy dismissal). However, Mr Kaltoft asserted that he had been selected for dismissal over colleagues because he was obese and that this amounted to discrimination. The Danish court referred the case to the ECJ.

disability_sign.jpg

The ECJ found that there is no general principle of EU law prohibiting discrimination on grounds of obesity per se, but that obesity may fall within the definition of “disability”.

For the purposes of the Equality Act 2010, which is the legislation dealing with discrimination in Great Britain, a disability is any physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. Just because somebody is obese, it does not mean that they will automatically be disabled – their circumstances must be such that they fall within this definition.

Priority Car Parking

Employers should therefore consider whether any of their employees or job applicants who are obese are disabled and, if so, whether it is necessary to make reasonable adjustments to help them overcome any substantial disadvantages relating to employment. Such adjustments could include, for example, providing adapted chairs or, in the case of employees who have mobility problems, car parking near to the workplace in priority to others. Employers are reminded that advice and a certain amount of funding in relation to adjustments can be obtained through Access to Work – although approaches to Access to Work can be made only by employees.

Amend Equal Opportunities Policies

Employers should also consider amending their equal opportunities policies and adapting any training to ensure employees are aware that people with obesity might be disabled, and therefore that subjecting them to harassment or otherwise less favourable treatment might amount to unlawful discrimination – for which discriminating employees can be personally liable, as well as the employer.

For further information and for advice relating to issues surrounding disability discrimination and other employment law issues, please contact me (T: 01952 211 025; E: jennifer.gibson@lblaw.co.uk) or Will Morse (T: 01432 377152; E: will.morse@lblaw.co.uk).