Can obesity be a disability?

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The European Court of Justice decides.

It may be surprising for some you to learn that obesity can qualify as a disability if it prevents a worker from being able to work on a basis equal to that of his or her colleagues. This was the decision of the European Court of Justice in the case of FOA acting on behalf of Karsten Kaltoft v Billund Kommune.

In this case Mr Kaltoft had worked as a child minder for 15 years for the Municipality of Billund. Throughout the duration of his employment he was obese as classified by the World Health Organisation. Due to a downturn in work he was dismissed on grounds of redundancy and, whilst there is some uncertainty as to how discussions came about, it is accepted that reference was made to his obesity during the dismissal process. Mr Kaltoft claimed his dismissal was related to his obesity and presented a claim to the Danish District Court that he had been unlawfully discriminated against due to his obesity.

The ECJ concluded that obesity itself was not a protected characteristic, however, in some circumstances the effects of an individual’s obesity might mean they are disabled for the purposes of legislation and entitled to protection against discrimination.

It was also confirmed that, if a person had been responsible for the onset of the obesity, it could still amount to a disability.

If you have any questions, or need any specific advice on this or on any Employment issue, please contact our Employment Law Team on 01733 882800.

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