Business Law & Compliance

Obese employees could be given same rights as the disabled

1 min read

11 June 2014

Employers could face being forced to make more allowances for obese staff as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will tomorrow consider whether obesity should for the first time be deemed a disability.

Karsten Kaltoft, a 25st Danish childminder, was reportedly sacked by his employer, a local authority, due to being unable to complete his duties due to his size. The case was referred to the ECJ by the Danish Courts and could have significant implications for employers.

Whilst UK law protects those who are deemed to have a “protected characteristic” such as a disability, the question of whether this applies to the obese has rarely been tested in the past.

Glenn Hayes, an employment law partner at Irwin Mitchell, said that if an obese person can be deemed disabled then employers may have to make what the law describes as “reasonable adjustments” such as providing closer parking spaces, special desks or duties which involve reduced walking or travelling.

He said: “It may also have wider implications in that employers who make adverse assumptions about a “fat” candidate or employee’s commitment or ability to perform the job, based purely on an individual’s weight, will be deemed to have directly discriminated against him or her and they will also need to take a more active role in ensuring adverse comments are not made against an individual to ensure that no harassment claim is successful.”

in 2011, 24 per cent of men and 26 per cent of women in the UK were found to be obese. 

Related: Three key employment law changes for 2014