Obesity as a disability?

  • Posted

Posted 11/06/2014

It is well established that it is unlawful to discriminate against employees and workers because of a physical or mental disability or to fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate employees or workers with a disability.

The question of whether an obese individual is disabled under the Equality Act 2010 has been a point of much discussion. This issue is now in the spotlight as the European Court of Justice (ECJ) is due to determine whether EU law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of obesity.

The issue has previously arisen in the Employment Tribunal and the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT), in the case Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd. In this case from last year, the EAT held that obesity itself is not a disability under the Equality Act 2010 but that it could be possible to conclude that an obese individual meets the definition of disability if they can show that the consequences of their obesity, such as diabetes, have a substantial long-term effect on their everyday life. Additionally, the obesity might affect the length of time an impairment is likely to last.

If the test case is successful it will be enough for an individual to show that they suffer from obesity, to meet the definition of disability. An individual will no longer have to look just at the effects of their obesity to decide if they satisfy the definition.

According to NHS statistics, the number of the adult population in the UK that is clinically obese is set to rise. It is clear therefore that the outcome of this week’s ECJ case could have a wide effect on employers. If the claim in the ECJ is successful, the Equality Act 2010 will apply to a much larger proportion of the population. In any event, it is good practice for employers to monitor and assess an individual’s workplace to ensure that their ability to carry out work effectively is not hindered and to safeguard their wellbeing.


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