Obesity at work can now amount to a “disability”

Employers will have to change the way they treat overweight staff following a European Union court ruling that obesity can, in severe cases, constitute a disability.

A landmark decision by the European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity at work, whilst not having protection as being recognised as a “disability” in itself, can still amount to a form to discrimination by employers if reasonable adjustments are not made by employers where the worker’s obesity hinders what they are expected to carry out. This could be, for example, because of reduced mobility, discomfort or making it impossible to operate at a particular workstation, as compared with other workers.

The EU judgement does not distinguish how the worker became obese, so an argument by an employer that this is a lifestyle choice will not wash.

As one in four adults in the UK is obese, according to latest figures from the NHS, the ruling could have significant implications for employers.