The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010 is ‘a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial long term adverse impact on the person’s ability to carry out normal day to day activities’. Certainly many obese people find that there is a long term effect on their day to day activities – does this mean they could claim to be disabled?
In the UK, the answer to this question has previously been that obesity would not be a disability in its own right – for example, in the case of Walker v Sita (2013) as covered in our previous article here.
However, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is currently considering the question, and if obesity is found to be a disability then the decision will be binding across the EU and will have far-reaching implications for employers, especially as the number of obese people worldwide continues to rise.
In the US, for example, obesity is specifically included in the definition of disability under the Americans with Disabilities Amendments Act.
The case being examined by the ECJ involves a 25 stone childminder in Denmark, Mr Kaltoft, who was sacked by the local authority after 15 years’ service when the local authority claimed he became unable to perform his duties because of his size (they said he was unable to bend down to tie children’s shoelaces, for example).
In the Walker case, it was found that obesity in its own right was not a disability, but that it may make it more likely that there would be other medical conditions present which could lead an obese person to meet the definition.
If the ECJ do conclude that obesity amounts to a disability then this would protect obese workers against discrimination and would also put employers under a duty to make reasonable adjustments, such as providing special furniture or reserved parking spaces where it is reasonable to do so. The decision would however create a lot of questions – for example, how overweight would someone have to be in order to qualify for protection?
We will of course update you on the decision in the Kaltoft case as soon as it is known. If in the meantime you have any queries about this area, please do feel free to contact us.
If you would like to talk through a situation you are dealing with, or if you need advice on any aspect of employment law, please contact any member of the Pure Employment Law team (01243 836840 or [email protected]).