EU's highest Court has ruled that obesity can constitute a "disability" in certain circumstances. The Court clarified that obesity itself cannot be considered a disability but the effects on the individual may constitute a disability. The case involves a childminder who weighed 160kg and was dismissed because he was overweight. The Court did not rule what exact weight constituted obese, which leaves it open to judgement. Nevertheless, EU rulings are binding on all EU member states. Therefore the effect on British employers is that they will need to consider making adjustments to their workplace for their obese employees, as they would for other disabled employees to avoid discrimination claims. This could include making perhaps bigger seats, larger tables or even parking spaces for employees who are obese. No doubt there could now be an influx of complaints by obese employees to their employers about problems they have with their workspace.
It is interesting to consider where this ruling may lead to. What about other employees who suffer problems as a result of their body shape or physical appearance such as being too small, too tall or ugly? The EU judgement is momentous and another reminder to British employers of the wide ranging nature of disability discrimination law in the UK.
“While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.”