Obesity can be deemed a disability at work: EU court

Thu Dec 18, 2014 10:07am EST
 
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By Julia Fioretti

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Europe's top court ruled on Thursday that obese people can be considered as disabled, but stopped short of saying that obesity was a condition that needed specific protection under European anti-discrimination laws.

The landmark decision will be closely read by European employers and means that companies might have to provide greater support to obese staff.

The case was instigated by a Danish court, which wanted guidance over a complaint of unfair dismissal brought by a child-minder who was sacked by a local authority.

Karsten Kaltoft, who never weighed less than 160 kilograms (352 pounds) during his employment, argued that his obesity was one of the reasons he lost his job and that this amounted to unlawful discrimination -- an allegation the council denied.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (EJC) ruled that EU employment law did not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of obesity, and said the law should not be extended to make it a protected category.

However, the Luxembourg-based court said that if an employee's obesity hindered "full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers" then it could be considered a disability. This, in turn, is covered by anti-discrimination legislation.

Classifying obesity as a protected characteristic -- such as sex, race or age -- would have required employers to take measures to ensure obese workers could perform their duties on an equal footing with others.

"It would have opened a can of worms," said Crowley Woodford, employment partner at law firm Ashurst.   Continued...

 
Women sit on a bench in New York's Times Square May 31, 2012. REUTERS/Brendan McDermid