Ruling about whether obese employees are protected under disability discrimination laws
Yesterday, the European Court of Justice ("ECJ") ruled on whether an employee was protected under European equality laws from discrimination on grounds of obesity.
Put simply, the ECJ ruled that obesity itself is not a disability, but that the effects of obesity on the individual can be. So, the mere fact that an employee is overweight will not give them protection from discrimination but if they suffer from, for example, joint problems, depression, or diabetes because of their size they may be protected.
It is the impact of the obesity which is important in determining whether disability discrimination protection applies. The ECJ held that where an individual's weight hinders their participation in professional life on a long-term basis, then they are likely to fall within the meaning of "disability".
Where an obese employee does come under disability discrimination protection, employers will need to consider whether any reasonable adjustments should be made. These might include providing bigger chairs and desks, car parking spaces near the front door and duties involving less mobility. In addition, there may be a high risk of harassment and bullying of an obese employee.