Effects of Obesity Could Amount to a Disability

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An Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) has overturned the decision of an Employment Tribunal (ET) that an obese employee was not disabled for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010. The employee, Mr Walker, suffered from a condition that caused him to suffer various physical and mental conditions including bowel and knee problems, asthma, anxiety and depression which was worsened by his obesity and affected him in carrying out his day to day activities. Mr Walker claimed that his employer, Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd had discriminated against him because of his disability. The ET rejected Mr Walker’s claims on the basis that he was not disabled; a decision that was backed up by medical evidence stating that it had not been possible to find a cause for his medical condition other than his obesity. Mr Walker subsequently appealed to the EAT who considered the ET had been wrong in focusing on the fact that medical evidence had not specifically identified a physical or mental cause for his medical condition and so upheld his appeal. The EAT commented that the proper question when considering whether someone was disabled is whether they have a physical or mental impairment and the focus should not be on the cause of any such impairment. In this case, Mr Walker had been impaired for a considerable time. The EAT also commented that the fact that a person is obese does not necessarily mean that they are disabled but it might make it more likely that they are. For example, an ET may be more willing to conclude that a person has a particular impairment or that the impairment will last for a considerable time where the person is obese and the EAT gave the specific example of diabetes. Employers should be mindful considering the impairment itself rather than the cause when establishing whether an employee is disabled. Another example is that of alcoholism which is not a disability under the Equality Act 2010, but if an individual suffered consequent liver conditions, then this may amount to a disability.

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