Is Obesity a Disability?
Last week the European Court
of Justice ("ECJ") was invited to consider whether obesity is a
In the context of a recent
survey which states that 64% of adults in the UK are classified as
being overweight or obese, such a finding in likely to have
considerable impact upon the workplace.
The case before the ECJ was
brought by Karsten Kaltoft a Danish child minder against his
employer a local authority.
Kaltoft was dismissed by his
employer because it was argued, given his weight, 158kg or 25
stone, he could not fulfil his duties. One example that was
given was that he could not tie children's shoelaces without
assistance from a colleague. The European Court determined
that obesity was not a protected characteristic per se under the
Equal Treatment Directive but went on to conclude that where the
condition of obesity "hinders full participation in professional
life on an equal footing with other employees due to the physical
and/or psychological limitations that it entails, then it can be
considered to be a disability.
This thinking is in line with
the case of Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing
Limited in the Employment Appeals Tribunal which concluded
that whilst obesity does not of itself render a person to be
disabled but some of the impairments arising may cause an
individual to be considered to be disabled.
In short, therefore, it was
the impairment rather than the cause which fell to be considered
and the example given was that of liver disease caused by alcohol
dependency. Whilst alcoholism is expressly not a disability
under discrimination law, liver disease would qualify as a physical
impairment giving rise to a potential disability.
An employer would be well
advised to consider the duty placed upon them to make reasonable
adjustments, such adjustments could include modification to chairs
and desks, adjustments to work stations and even access
arrangements to the office generally, toilets and the canteen and
of course car parking as mobility may well be an issue.
Posted on: 23/07/2014
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.
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