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Obesity can be a disability under EU law

Following the landmark ruling of the European Court of Justice in FOA (Kaltoft) v Billund, obesity can potentially be considered as being a disability under EU law, however obesity itself is not deemed to be a protected characteristic.

In summary, Mr Kaltoft was a Danish child minder who was dismissed by his local city council in 2010 by way of redundancy. However he alleged that it was his obesity that brought about his redundancy dismissal. For clarity on the issue, four questions were put forward by the Denmark District Court to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling.  

The questions were as follows:

  • whether it was unlawful to discriminate on the grounds of obesity;
  • whether any such right was directly applicable;
  • querying the appropriate burden of proof; and
  • whether obesity could be deemed to be a disability, and if it is how is it determined if an obese person is protected against disability discrimination.

In relation to the first question the ECJ held that obesity cannot itself be considered as a ground for protection against discrimination, which in turn meant that the second and third question did not need to be answered. However, in relation to the fourth question the ECJ held that “under given circumstances, ‘obesity’ entails a limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one”, it could be a disability.

It will now be for the national courts of the Member States, in this case our own Employment Tribunal’s to determine whether the conditions needed for obesity to be considered as a disability are met.

Conclusion 

Obesity then is not always a disability per se, but it is a condition which can fall into the concept of ‘disability’ and give rise to the protection of that characteristic under the Equality Act 2010. In practice then employers may well be required to make adjustments to their workplace to support staff who are obese.

As always if I can provide you with any further assistance on queries relating to potential disability discrimination or any other issue, please do not hesitate to contact me for a free consultation on 0113 350 4030 or samira.cakali@scesolicitors.co.uk


Please note that the information in this blog is to provide information of general interest in a summary manner and should not be construed as individual legal advice. Readers should consult with SCE Solicitors or other professional counsel before acting on the information contained here.

Samira Cakali

Samira Cakali is a pragmatic and approachable solicitor advocate with extensive contentious and non-contentious experience in the fields of employment law as well as civil litigation, within a range of commercial businesses from SME’s to multinationals as well as senior executives.

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