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Is obesity a disability under the Equality Act 2010?

20th February, 2015

Can a worker make a claim for disability discrimination due to their obesity?

In the past the law has taken the stance that obesity does not qualify as a form of disability under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA). However, recently there seems to have been some acknowledgement on behalf of the courts regarding this.

In the recent European case of Karsten Kaltoft v Kommunernes Landsforening, acting on behalf of the Municipality of Billund C-354/13. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) although did not qualify obesity as a single disability, it did acknowledge that in certain circumstances obesity may render people disabled, if the obesity involves a limitation that results in a long-term physical, mental or psychological impairment that, in interaction with various barriers, may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.

A worker’s obesity may qualify as a disability if it prevents them from being able to work on a basis equal to that of  colleagues. It could also qualify as a disability if the worker is able to perform the functions of the role but is only able to do so with discomfort. This may have an impact on employers, as in certain circumstances obesity could give rise to disability discrimination claims.

Employers need to be mindful of the Equality Act 2010, as it will be necessary for employers to assess when the limitations faced by an obese worker reach the stage of having a negative impact on their ability to participate fully and effectively in professional life in the same way as their peers. Obesity will only be categorised as a disability when that stage is reached. Employers have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for an obese worker who is categorised as disabled.

For further information and advice regarding discrimination or making reasonable adjustments, please contact Helen Watson on 01244 405565 or sent an email to [email protected]

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