Yesterday, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled that obesity, unlike sex, race or age, is not in itself a characteristic which attracts the protection of discrimination laws. However, if severe enough, it could be a type of disability which is protected. This could be the case even where there is no medical condition related to the obesity, such as diabetes. The causes of the obesity are simply irrelevant: obesity will be a disability where it “hinders full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”.
Following the dismissal of a clinically-obese child-minder in Denmark, his case was referred to the ECJ for a preliminary hearing, where it was found that a person with long-term obesity can be regarded as disabled.
Essentially a person cannot claim that they have been discriminated against on the grounds of obesity, unless they can establish that the obesity is a disability. A condition is a disability if it is a long term condition or impairment (mental or physical) which causes a substantial impairment on an individual ability to undertake normal day to day activities.
Disability laws include protection against an individual being treated less favourably on the grounds of disability and impose duties on an employers, recruiters and hirers to make reasonable adjustments. Examples of potential discrimination include refusing a person a role or terminating employment because they are obese, or failing to make reasonable adjustments. These can include simple things like a modified desk or chair, or catering for mobility issues, however it should be remembered that it is not any adjustment only something that is “reasonable”.