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/ 22 Dec 2014

Is obesity a disability?

Maybe according to the European Court of Justice in the case of FOA (Kaltoft) v Bilund.

This case concerned an obese childminder who was dismissed by a Danish local authority for what they said was redundancy but what he said was as a result of his weight. The matter was eventually referred to the European Court of Justice to answer the questions as to whether it was unlawful to discriminate against the person on the grounds of their obesity and whether obesity could be deemed to be a disability.

Contrary to a plethora of misinterpretation that has appeared in various media, the Court did not say that obesity is another “protected characteristic” such as gender, race, sexual orientation etc. What the Court did say was that obesity could give rise to impairments to participation in the workplace on an equal basis with other workers and if this is a long-term problem this could be construed as a disability.
An important point is that in line with other disabilities there is no concept of “contributory negligence” in bringing about the disability. So in the same way that a person could be disabled because of his/her smoking producing for example emphysema or undertaking dangerous sports, the cause of the disability has no bearing on the question whether a person is disabled or not.

If person is too fat to undertake their job could this be dealt with under some kind of capability procedure in encouraging the person to lose weight? Given this judgement employers will have to be very careful that they do not stray into discriminatory areas.

What this judgment does not mean is that employers will have to, as a matter of course, widen doors, purchase extra strong or larger seating or allow obese people to park their car nearer the entrance than other workers.

If this is an issue that affects you either as an employer was an employee then please contact the Employment Department.

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