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Obesity could be classed as a disability

19th Dec 2014

The European Court of Justice (CJEU) has ruled that obesity could now be ruled as a disability in some situations, meaning compliance with the Equality Act could become harder.

The decision was made after the court was asked to consider a male child-minder’s case, that of Karsten Kaltoft from Denmark. At around 25 stone, he argued that he was sacked four years ago for being overweight, and accused his employers, Billund local authority, of discrimination.

The authority defended itself by arguing that a drop in the number of children requiring a child-minding service was what led to Kaltoft losing his employment, and not his weight.

The Danish courts consequently turned to the CJEU to clarify whether or not obesity could be counted as a disability, with the court ruling that it could possibly fall within the definition of a disability if a worker’s obesity ‘hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers’.

Previously this year however, Nick Elwell-Sutton, a partner at Clyde & Co., noted that complying with the Equality Act could become more complicated for employers if obesity were to be defined as a disability.

Elwell-Sutton stated that around four per cent of the UK’s population had a BMI of 40 or greater, which is classed as ‘severely obese’ by the NHS. This would see an extension of law firms’ obligations under the Equality Act 2010, ‘both as service providers to clients, and as employers’.

Kevin Poulter, editor of the Solicitors Journal, and Legal Director at Bircham Dyson Bell, warned that the case should be an alert for employers to potential claims obese workers could have, and an opportunity to ‘consider the impact of a person’s weight on their ability to perform their role’, but to remember that the court has stated that obesity alone is not automatically a disability. Small actions could be taken in order to ensure that an obese employee has no problem with their working environment, therefore meaning further complaints may not be necessary.