Are obese employees protected by disability discrimination law?

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doctor with obesity sign
A recent European case involving a Danish child-minder may redefine obesity as a disability.

Karsten Kaltoft brought a case against his local authority. He weighed 25st and was sacked by Billund Kommune because it deemed him unable to perform his duties as a result of his size. An example of his inability to carry out his duties was that he required assistance from a colleague to help a child tie up their shoe laces. The Danish courts referred the matter to the European Court of Justice (ECJ).

The ECJ will have to decide whether it is legitimate to discriminate on the grounds of obesity and whether the burden of proof in future cases should be on the employee or the employer.

This could be significant for UK employers where 64% of adults are classified as being overweight or obese. Discrimination law in the UK currently protects physical and mental conditions which result from obesity provided they meet specific criteria relating to their nature, effect and duration. If obesity is defined as a disability, employers will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace or working arrangements.

We will keep you updated on this.

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