An EU judge’s ruling that morbidly obese staff should be treated as disabled could cause problems on a ‘truly astonishing scale’ if it becomes law here, warns one of the region’s leading employment law specialists.
Jane Ellis, of Ellis Hass Solicitors commented that Niilo Jaaskinen, Advocate General at the European Court of Justice, in ruling on a much publicised case that extremely obese staff could be considered disabled is a cause of great concern.
“It is mind boggling what the likely costs to employers will be if the European Court of Justice accepts this opinion,” said Ms Ellis.
The ruling surrounds a 25 stone Danish childminder, sacked because he couldn’t do tasks needed for his job due to his weight.
It will now be considered by the European Court for Justice as a basis for deciding whether the childminder’s obesity is a disability under EU law, and whether the employer was guilty of discrimination by sacking him. If the court adheres to the ruling it could result in widespread changes to workplace disability laws.
“We need to look at the ramifications for employers if this became law in the UK as it could cause problems on a truly astonishing scale,” said Ms Ellis.
“It will be interesting to see how UK courts interpret what has happened as it seems to take us down the road of obesity being recognised as a disability,” she added.
The Solihull expert said in cases where being grossly overweight means an employee cannot perform the duties of their role and this condition is likely to carry on, then the duty to make reasonable adjustments comes into play, even if there doesn’t appear an underlying cause
“It is possible that employers could find themselves obliged to make changes such as providing car parking spaces close to the workplace entrance for obese staff and providing special desks and chairs,” she said.
“At Ellis Hass, we are watching these developments with our full attention, because if the court accepts Mr Jaaskinen’s opinion then the repercussions could be huge,” she said.