Obesity and disability

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The European Court of Justice has now handed down its decision in the Danish case of Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund. The case considered whether EU law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of obesity and whether obesity could constitute a disability. Kaltoft was a 25 stone nursery worker who was made redundant but alleged that his selection for redundancy was due to his weight which according to the World Health Organisation was categorised as obese.

The ECJ found that obesity may amount to a disability if it limits a person’s participation at work. If the only reason the employee can participate fully at work is because of adaptations made by the employer, the employee could still be regarded as disabled. Being fat or obese is not a disability in its own right but the effects of it could be. For example if the obesity causes mobility issues this could be a disability. The reason for the obesity is irrelevant so it matters not whether the obesity is caused by a medical condition or personal circumstances.

The case was referred back to the Danish court to determine whether in this specific case his obesity fell within this definition of disability. Employers will need to assess each employee on a case by case basis and if the employee is deemed disabled they will need to consider whether any reasonable adjustments should be made.

Written by
Edward Aston
2nd February 2015