Although it may seem that employment law covers every form of discrimination in the workplace, there is one key area missing. There is nothing covered in EU law to prevent an employer discriminating on the grounds of obesity. However, under the Equal Treatment Framework Directive, it could be possible for obesity to be classed as a disability.
Under this framework, which was enforced in the UK through the 2010 Equality Act, religion or belief, age, sexual orientation and disability are protected from discrimination in employment. The term ‘disability’ covers any limitation caused as a result of psychological, mental and physical impairments. These limitations may hinder employees’ participation in their professional lives in comparison to other workers.
So does this definition of disability cover obesity? And perhaps more importantly, should it? It is most probably that only class III obesity under the World Health Organisation would count as a disability. This is a type of severe, morbid obesity that would create limitations for the employee in question with regards to their mobility and endurance. Even emotional factors such as mood could be affected by the condition.
In 2013, in a case relating to obesity, the EAT found that obesity itself did not count as a disability. They claimed that it was the effects of the obesity that contributed to the impairments stated in the framework. This means that an employee is not disabled because they are obese but the effects of their condition may contribute towards disability.
Overall, employers need to be aware that morbidly obese employees could class as disabled if a case is taken to tribunal. This could have implications on an employer’s rights to dismiss and employee and may require them to make reasonable adjustments.
Here at Independent Personnel we provide a tailor-made service to ensure you have the right policies and practices in place that match you and your business’ needs.