Employment Update: Obesity as a Disability
The European Court were recently asked to decide whether obesity could be a disability. The case involved an employee with 15 years’ service, who the World Health Organisation described as "seriously obese".
The European Court ruled that whilst European law does not lay down a general principle of non-discrimination on the grounds of obesity, in certain circumstances, if obesity leads to a limitation which in turn leads to mental, physiological or physical impairment that prevent the employee having full participation with co-employees on an equal basis, then this could fall within the definition of a disability.
This ruling could have a serious impact on employers who need to consider the working environment and make appropriate changes to accommodate the needs of seriously obese employees. Employers may need to consider providing larger office furniture and car parking spaces.
Employers would also need to be aware any other barriers facing obese employees in the work place, unless it can be proved that making changes would be disproportionate.
We need to wait and see how our national courts interpret the European Court's definition of disability. In the meantime, employers need to be aware of the potential claims that could be brought against them by obese employees, under existing disability discrimination legislation.
At Samuels we can offer advice about employment issues to employers and employees alike.
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