Obese staff to gain Disability Rights in the Workplace

The 64 per cent of adults in Britain who are overweight or obese may soon have to be provided with larger office seats, lifts and priority parking by their employers after a recent European ruling that obesity is a disability.

A preliminary opinion from the European Court of Justice has indicated that it was unlawful to discriminate against a person who is so obese that their size affects their work. If this opinion is upheld (and this is likely) at the European Court, these employees would be classified as disabled and as such would have protection under the Equality Act 2010 so that their employers cannot treat them less favourably because of their weight. Reasonable adjustments would have to be made to the workplace to accommodate such employees.

The test case was brought in Denmark where a local authority sacked a child-minder because it said he was unable to execute his duties because of his obesity – for example he had been unable to tie a child’s shoe laces. The court held that if obesity had “reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability”.

Pam Sidhu, an Associate at the Wilkes Partnership, said, “Employers may well find it difficult to establish if an overweight employee is in that category and as such may decide to err on the side of caution and provide special equipment to their employees more or less on demand. A robust human resources policy will soon need to specifically address obesity”.

If you would like assistance in developing your human resources policy, call Pam Sidhu or your usual contact in the Employment Team on 0121 233 4333 for further information.

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