In some circumstances obesity could be considered grounds for disability, EU courts ruled in December. The court ruling followed one Danish man’s (Karston Kaltoft) claim to false termination of employment for being too fat: Kaltoft claims that he was terminated because he was overweight.
This discrimination case was brought to trial after he was fired four years ago by his employers, of which he had worked for 15 years. Kaltoft worked as a childminder, a job that required him to, in some cases, perform strenuous activities he was unable to perform.
If obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work, then it could be considered as a disability, the courts said. This ruling is of great interest to employers across Europe; it sends a powerful message that an obese worker whose weight hinders their performance at work is entitled to disability protection.
This means that employers are required (on a case by case basis) to provide reasonable adjustments for obese employees in the workplace. This can include minor things such as providing larger chairs, special car parking, etc. Furthermore, providers of goods and services are held to the same standards: Places like shops, restaurants, and cinemas will now have to cater to disabled people who are obese.
This ruling has potential to raise awareness among employers of their responsibility towards obese employees in the workplace. “It is implying that people have no control over the condition, rather than something that can be greatly improved by changing behaviour.”
While obesity itself is not a disability, the effects of it can be. This is perhaps the most important takeaway of the entire ruling: people who suffer from illnesses such as joint problems, depression, or diabetes do not have the right to be terminated because of their weight. The ruling is binding throughout the entire EU.
Written by Guillaume Lapointe-Gagner