Business Law & Compliance

Obese workers unable to play full role in business, according to UK employers

3 min read

10 April 2015

Former deputy editor

Almost half of British employers are less likely to appoint a new recruit at the interview stage if they're obese, with some considering them lazy, according to Crossland Employment Solicitors.

The obesity study follows a European Court of Justice ruling that obesity could be viewed as a disability if it prevents an employee from completing their duties at the same level of other workers.

Indeed, 45 per cent of British employers are less inclined to appoint someone if they’re considered obese. Reasons cited by bosses include: “Obese workers are unable to play a full role in the business,” “They wouldn’t be able to do the job required”, and “They’re lazy”.

However, the ECJ ruling means that employers will need to support obese workers considered disabled, which Crossland suspects has affected recruitment decisions.

The study found 63 per cent fear being taken to court for discrimination if obesity-related disability needs aren’t met, while 61 per cent of employers are worried about costs and side effects of accommodating overweight staff.

Elsewhere, 26 per cent are less likely to hire obese staff because they lack awareness of laws surrounding their employment.

Beverley Sunderland, MD, Crossland Employments Solicitors, said: “Our research shows just how less inclined employers are to recruit obese applicants following the case of Mr Kaltoft, the overweight childminder in Denmark and the ECJ ruling.

“It also demonstrates that organisations do need to be more careful at every stage of recruitment and retention of employees, as discrimination law warns us against making ‘stereotypical assumptions’ and doing so can lead to grievances and possible complaints of constructive dismissal.  This applies to both existing employees, or people applying for a job.”

Poor understanding could cause trouble for businesses, as 51 per cent of employers are unaware that they could face charges if an obese job applicant tells discusses their condition in an interview and isn’t employed, claiming they weren’t selected based on their weight.

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One in four British adults is considered obese, resulting in more than 12,000 related hospital appointments each year. As such, Crossland recommends companies acknowledge the Fit for Work government scheme, which provides advice on policies around employee sick leave.

“Employers should change their sick policies to ensure that all employees will comply with the Fit for Work Scheme,” said Sunderland.

“The area of disability discrimination is a complicated one. Even though an occupational therapist or trained nurse undertaking any future Fit for Work plans may say that an employee is not disabled, it will always be a matter of fact for a tribunal to decide.  With this roll-out now underway, organisations should seek legal advice to ensure that they have all policies and documentation fully in place.”

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