Court rules Obesity can constitute a “Disability” (in Europe at least)!

January 2nd, 2015 by

The European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity can constitute a disability for the purposes of the European Union equality at work legislation. This means that British companies will be required to treat obese workers as “disabled.”

The case centers around Mr. Karsten Kaltoft, a childminder for 15 years for the Municipality of Billund in Denmark. He was dismissed four years ago and weighs approximately 352 pounds. He was said to have been terminated due to the fall in the number of children, but Mr. Kaltoft argued he was dismissed because he was overweight. In response, he claimed discrimination against his employer.

Mr. Kaltoft does not see himself as disabled, he stated “I can sit on the floor and play with [the children,] I have no problems like that…it’s not ok to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”

The Danish Court was uncertain on how to decide the case and asked the European Court of Justice to clarify whether or not obesity was a disability. The Court ruled that if the obesity of the worker “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers,” than obesity can be considered a “disability.” This ruling is binding for all European Union member nations.

The Danish Court will now have to further assess Mr. Kaltoft’s weight to see whether his case can be classified as discrimination based on a disability, even if his obesity is caused by his overeating.

Companies will now be forced to make concessions and accommodations for overweight staff members and workers which could include gym memberships, opportunities to work from home, medical and dietary advice and extra-large office chairs and doors. Furthermore, companies may also be subject to expensive compensation claims for discrimination or termination of obese individuals.

Health campaigners and business leaders have criticized this decision as it could open the floodgates for all European Union employers, since they may be required to make adjustments to their office space and furniture, and offer other accommodations to obese individuals.

For a link to the original decision, click here.

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