European Court Rules Obese Employees as “Disabled”

One case in Europe has determined obesity to be considered a disability.

There is no discrimination law protecting obese workers; however, European courts have made an exception to the rule.

If a worker’s weight prevents them from being fully engaged into their work, then his or her obesity could be protected under discrimination law.

In the case of Kaltoft vs. Municipality of Billund involving an overweight male Danish nanny, the Court of Justice of the European Union (ECJ) decided to classify obesity as a disability according to the severity of the person’s condition. 

Karstel Kaltoft—who is now a truck driver—was terminated because his employers claimed his weight prevented him from fulfilling necessary activities required by the job.

His employer even went as far as saying that his obesity prevented him from helping tie a child’s shoelaces.

Although Kaltoft is very aware of his physical appearance and the impact it has on his health, he told The Washington Times that he believes that his weight shouldn’t be the reason behind losing his childcare job. 

I never saw it as a requirement that I needed to lose weight and never had a feeling that it could cost me the job."

According to Kaltoft, obesity shouldn’t determine someone’s employment status, but should be given appropriate attention and accommodations.

Kaltoft’s lawsuit has created positive strides for heavy people in the workforce. Yet, some view the outcome as a hindrance for most employers.

Companies are now worried that they will be constantly obligated to make comfortable adjustments and alterations for overweight staff members; and, to make matters worse, 64 percent of British people are overweight.

However, ECJ says that it’s best for an employer to compromise with its worker to avoid discriminatory accusations.

In accordance with the advocate general’s opinion, ECJ agreed that:

Limitation which results in particular from physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one.”

The only concern for obese workers is being singled out by employers. Some are fearful that they will be treated differently than smaller sized colleagues, and especially stand out more with certain accommodations.   

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At the moment, it’s unclear what weight measurements constitute as disabled obesity since the European court has yet to provide a specific definition of it.

For now, the Employment Tribunals assesses the dynamics of every individual case and decides if the claim fits under workplace discrimination.

Employers are advised to accommodate their obese employees as much as possible, which would include providing in-office adjustments such as: larger seats, wider workstations or desks, reducing the amount of work given, and cutting back hours and workload when necessary.

This will “enable a person with a disability to have access to or participate in employment” without having to face workplace discrimination.

Also, they should be cautious not to make any hiring decisions on the basis of someone’s physical size.

They can avoid discrimination or harassment claims by creating reasonable job training and workplace adjustments, making every employee’s job equally manageable. 

Here is a video discussion about the new court decision provided by The Young Turks:

Image source:Euro Fashion Magazine

Employment Law Watch- "European Court confirms obesity can be a disability under EU law"
Daily Mail-"21-stone British man sacked after spending seven years off work wins landmark case..."
The Washington Times-"Obesity ruled a ‘disability’ by EU court; cause deemed irrelevant"




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