Employers facing heavy burden over severely obese workers

2014-07-21 Jennifer Renney-Butland posted:

Severe obesity may in future be classified as a disability, resulting in severely obese employees having protection under the Equality Act 2010.

This comes after the advocate general, the chief legal adviser to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, issued a preliminary ruling on a claim by a Danish childminder, who weighed more than 160kg (25 stone) and had a BMI of 54.

The claimant was dismissed by his employer in 2010 after reportedly being unable to bend down to tie up shoelaces for the children he was looking after.

The advocate general has stated that very severe obesity – classified as a BMI of more than 40 – could be considered a disability and that it is unlawful to discriminate against a person who is so obese that their size affects their work.

Therefore the European Court will now make a ruling as to whether obesity can be considered a disability under EU law, and whether to uphold the advocate general’s view.

If severe obesity is to be regarded as a disability for employment law purposes in future, the impact and cost to employers could be profound. Employers could find themselves under a legal obligation to consider making reasonable adjustments for obese job applicants and employees, such as providing dedicated car park spaces, special desks, providing duties which involve reduced walking or travelling.

Obesity is a growing problem in the UK, with 64% of adults in the UK classified as overweight or obese, and already costing the NHS £5 billion a year.

If an employer can show that it is a genuine occupational requirement that the employee is not obese, or that adjustments cannot reasonably be made for obese staff, the employer will not be penalised.

For fast, effective advice any all your employment and equality matters, get in touch with us today at info@renneyandco.com or call us on 01225 632240.

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