Disability legislation includes obese employees

The EU’s highest court recently ruled that an obese worker, whose weight hinders their performance at work is entitled to disability protection. Here WHN’s employment expert, Michael Shroot explains why businesses need to brace themselves for a legal obligation to offer obese workers special benefits.

Employers will have to change the way they treat overweight staff or they could face a costly unfair dismissal claim and discrimination. It comes after a European Union court ruling that obesity can, in severe cases, constitute a disability.

The case concerns a 25-stone Danish child-minder who said he was dismissed from his job because he was overweight. Judges found that there was no general principle of European Law prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of obesity.  However, they warned obesity could hinder ‘full and effective participation’ at work and so could count as a disability and would therefore be protected by disability legislation.

As this case continues, the courts in Denmark will now have to assess Mr Kaltoft’s weight to see if his case can be classed as a disability. Meanwhile business owners here in the UK need to fully understand these adjustments to the interpretation of our law in line with alterations to EU employment law and ensure adequate support is in place for staff.

Firstly, employers must consider, on a case by case basis, making reasonable adjustments to the working environment such as reserved parking, efficient seating and providing work which requires less exertion.  They also need to be aware that they have a requirement to protect such employees from verbal harassment.

The judgement does not mean someone can claim benefits simply for being obese, it is the effect of that obesity, but taking steps to prevent the risk of a complaint by staff will mean a costly employment tribunal can be greatly reduced.

If you are concerned about the ruling or need advice on any aspect of employment law, contact Michael Shroot at michael.shroot@whnsolicitors.co.uk or call 0161 761 8087