When the European Court of Justice was asked to consider the case of a 25 stone male childminder in Denmark who says he was sacked for being too fat earlier in the year we flagged up what a headache this could be for employers.
However, this week the court said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability. It is a move legally binding across the EU.
Judges said that obesity in itself was not a disability – but if a person had a long-term impairment because of their obesity, then they would be protected by disability legislation.
The ruling is of great interest to employers all over Europe. The judgement makes no direct link between Body Mass Index and obesity, but is a powerful statement that an obese worker whose weight hinders their performance at work is entitled to disability protection.
It will mean employers must, on a case by case basis, make reasonable adjustments such as providing larger chairs or special car parking, and protect such employees from verbal harassment.
As we said in July if being very overweight means an employee cannot perform the duties of their role and this condition is likely to continue, then the duty to make reasonable adjustments comes into force, even if there doesn’t appear an underlying cause.
Now it is perfectly possible that employers could find themselves obliged to make changes such as providing car parking spaces close to the work entrance for morbidly obese workers, providing special desks and chairs.
Unquestionably, this ruling is another change in the employer landscape and unfortunately it will prove a headache for many bosses from now on. We are sure the tabloids will have a great time with this.