Obesity can be classed as a disability – What does this mean for employers?

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The European Court of Justice has recently ruled that obesity can be classed as a disability if a person’s weight impedes their ‘full and effective participation’ at work.

This landmark case was bought before the court by a Danish child-minder who was sacked for being too fat. His employer said he was unable to carry out some duties in his role such as bending down to tie the shoelaces of the children in his care.

The court stated that if a person had an impairment due to their weight, they could find protection under disability legislation, even if the person’s obesity was caused by overeating. The Disability Discrimination Act 1995 states that an impairment is something affecting the ability of a person to carry out normal day-to-day activities. This could be in terms of mobility, manual dexterity, physical co-ordination or lifting, carrying or moving any other every day objects.

A quarter of British adults are clinically obese, with taxpayers forking out £54million in sickness benefits every year to people who are deemed too fat to work. This will lead to more demands on employers to accommodate obese workers.

So what does this mean for employers? An article in BM magazine (Treating obesity as a disability: what recent ruling means for UK employers) tells you what you need to know including what this means for employers;

  • It means you need to ensure you are aware of and compliant with current legislation and you understand the complex issues regarding discrimination on the grounds of disability.
  • You need to avoid treating disabled staff ‘less favourably’ than non-disabled staff.
  • You need to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace, working conditions and allocation of duties to assist disabled workers to stay in employment. For example providing specialist furniture like larger chairs, parking spaces next to the office, dietary advice, gym memberships, opportunities to work from home and making sure there is access all over the building for wheelchair users.

If you need help to prevent a disabled person being at a substantial disadvantage in your workplace give us a call.

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