Obesity is likely to be recognised as a disability, according to Advocate-General at the European Court of Justice’s (ECJ’s), Niilo Jääskinen. The Finnish lawyer claims that if morbid obesity clearly hinders participation in normal activities, it is likely to be deemed a recognised disability in the near future.
Jääskinen’s suggestions were made in response to a court case instigated by a Danish childminder, who claimed he was dismissed from his job by the local council because he couldn’t bend down to tie a child’s shoelace.
The Advocate-General’s opinion will go before the full court in the coming months and, if upheld, morbidly obese individuals will be protected under the Equality Act 2010. This means employers will not be able to treat obese employees less favourably because of their weight and reasonable adjustments will have to be made within the workplace to accommodate them.
How this will affect UK businesses
In most cases, the court adopts the Advocate-General’s recommendations, so it is highly likely that this will become law. Jääskinen has suggested that a body mass index (BMI) of 40 should be the threshold that marks a disability. Interestingly, an estimated one million people in the UK are currently classified as severely or morbidly obese.
UK employment law specialists have discussed how rulings made by UK courts will impact upon employers. If being obese means that an individual cannot perform the essential duties of his or her role and that this condition is likely to last at least 12 months, the duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ will kick in, even if there is no underlying cause or illness.
This could mean that employers will be legally obliged to make adjustments, such as providing car park spaces close to the workplace, providing special desks and limiting duties so that they involve less walking and travelling for obese people. There may also be implications for employers who are seen to discriminate against members of staff based on their weight.
How Medigold Health can help
Occupational health provider Medigold has worked with employers for many years to help prevent sickness absence and to ensure that workers are as fit and healthy as possible. We carry out regular health maintenance to monitor issues such as weight, blood pressure and stress levels. Doing can help to spot the early signs of common conditions and serious illnesses as well as treating existing problems.
As workplace legislation changes all the time, working with an occupational health advisor can help to protect you from prosecution and from discrimination claims.