Is Obesity a Disability?
Last week the European Courtof Justice ("ECJ") was invited to consider whether obesity is adisability.
In the context of a recentsurvey which states that 64% of adults in the UK are classified asbeing overweight or obese, such a finding in likely to haveconsiderable impact upon the workplace.
The case before the ECJ wasbrought by Karsten Kaltoft a Danish child minder against hisemployer a local authority.
Kaltoft was dismissed by hisemployer because it was argued, given his weight, 158kg or 25stone, he could not fulfil his duties. One example that wasgiven was that he could not tie children's shoelaces withoutassistance from a colleague. The European Court determinedthat obesity was not a protected characteristic per se under theEqual Treatment Directive but went on to conclude that where thecondition of obesity "hinders full participation in professionallife on an equal footing with other employees due to the physicaland/or psychological limitations that it entails, then it can beconsidered to be a disability.
This thinking is in line withthe case of Walker v Sita Information Networking ComputingLimited in the Employment Appeals Tribunal which concludedthat whilst obesity does not of itself render a person to bedisabled but some of the impairments arising may cause anindividual to be considered to be disabled.
In short, therefore, it wasthe impairment rather than the cause which fell to be consideredand the example given was that of liver disease caused by alcoholdependency. Whilst alcoholism is expressly not a disabilityunder discrimination law, liver disease would qualify as a physicalimpairment giving rise to a potential disability.
An employer would be welladvised to consider the duty placed upon them to make reasonableadjustments, such adjustments could include modification to chairsand desks, adjustments to work stations and even accessarrangements to the office generally, toilets and the canteen andof course car parking as mobility may well be an issue.
This article is for general guidance only. It provides useful information in a concise form. Action should not be taken without obtaining specific legal advice.