Obesity a Disability?

Like overindulging during Christmas it was difficult to avoid the headlines declaring that the European Courts had ruled that obesity was a disability.  In fact, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) found that there is no general principle of EU Law preventing discrimination on the ground of obesity, however, it went on to find that there are circumstances under which obesity can amount to a disability.  In particular, if the obesity "entails a limitation resulting in particular from long-term physical, mental or physiological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers".  This sentence does take some digestion and it means, by way of an example, an individual could be classed as disabled where the obesity results in a reduction in mobility, or the instigation of related medical conditions. 

This ruling follows similar principles in the law relating to alcoholics or alcoholism.  Addiction to alcohol is not a disability, however, certain conditions arising from it, such as liver disease, could result in disability.

Going forward employers need to consider whether a person's obesity prevents effective participation in their working life.  If it does, the individual may be classed as disabled.

Posted on: 20/01/2015

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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