Obesity a Disablity

Karsten Kaltoft was employed by Billund Local Authority a child minder.  He had worked for the Local Authority for approximately 15 years before he was dismissed.  Mr Kaltoft claimed that he was dismissed because he was overweight however the local authority assert that he was dismissed as the declination in children meant that he was simply not needed ie. his role was redundant.

To put the facts of the case into context, Mr Kaltoft weighed approximately 160kg (which is about 25 stone).

The European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) were asked to consider the case (originally heard in Denmark); in particular they were asked to consider the position as regards to obesity and whether it is in fact a disability. 

The ECJ held that there is no general principle of EU law which prohibits discrimination on the grounds of obesity and that the question that must be asked is “does a person suffer a long term limitation as a result of the physical, mental or psychological impairments that may hinder their full and effective participation in professional life with other workers?”.  If the answer to that question is yes, then they may have a disability.

Therefore, whilst obesity is itself not defined as a disability, if a person’s obesity means that they suffer a long term impairment as referred to above, then it could count as a disability for legislation purposes.

It is important to note that all rulings from the European Court of Justice are binding on all member states and so, their decision will have an impact on UK law. 

The result for you as employers is that in the event that you have employees who are obese, you will be required to make reasonable adjustments for them which may involve steps such as more suitable furniture or perhaps moving their office to the ground floor should they have difficulty climbing stairs. 

You should approach the sensitive issue with caution however as obviously if you start making adjustments for those employees who simply look like they enjoy their pies, they will no doubt take offence!  

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