Can obesity be considered a disability? How does this affect your business?

A recent judgement by the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg, which is now binding across the EU, has caused confusion amongst employers. The ruling, designed to protect obese employees from discrimination at work because of their weight, may have serious implications for small to medium sized businesses and HR teams.

The judges ruled in favour of obesity being a disability in some, but not all, cases. However its wider impact causes all employers to be expected to consider and accommodate employees where their weight may affect their work.

Is there a classification for being obese?

The European judges ruled that being severely overweight could be considered a disability if it “hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life”.

Being overweight or obese may cause other conditions, such as asthma, diabetes, breathing problems, heart disease and bowel symptoms, which may also cause an employee to be defined as having a disability. This can also include psychological problems, such as depression.

Employers need to bear all of these aspects in mind when considering the implications of considering obesity as a disability for employees within their business.

What does this mean for my business?

The ruling means that obesity should be treated in the same way as any other disability, if it impairs the way the employee carries out their job. Your organisation will be expected to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate obese staff, if that is the case.

As awareness of this ruling spreads, employees themselves may come forward requesting changes to their work environment. Your business needs to be prepared, knowing what your obligations are, and what you, and the courts, would consider ‘reasonable’ adjustments.

What sort of adjustments might I need to make?

Adjustments could mean specialist furniture fittings and spacing, or, if the employee is in a physically demanding role, a possible redeployment to a role more suited to their abilities.

You may have to introduce wider desks, bigger car parking spaces and more easily accessible fire escapes. If the individual’s mobility is affected, flexible working hours or the option to work from home must also be considered.

Concerned about the impact on your business? Contact Sylvia today to find out more about this ruling and the implications for your employees.


The Independent

Personnel Today

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