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Employment Law

Legal guidance - compliance - software

Veale Wasborough Vizards , 05 JAN 2015

Obesity alone is not a protected characteristic for discrimination purposes

Obesity alone is not a protected characteristic for discrimination purposes
In its recent decision, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has confirmed that discrimination on the grounds of obesity alone is not prohibited under EU law.

However, obesity can amount to a disability if it causes a limitation which hinders the individual's participation in 'professional life' compared with other workers.

Mr Kaltoft worked as a child-minder in Denmark until he was dismissed in November 2010 after 15 years' service. Mr Kaltoft was morbidly obese at the time of his dismissal. He claimed he had been dismissed due to his obesity and brought discrimination proceedings in Denmark. The Danish court asked the ECJ to clarify:

  • whether there is a general prohibition in the EU on all forms of discrimination, including obesity based discrimination, or
  • alternatively, whether obesity can be classed as a disability within the scope of the Equal Treatment Framework Directive
The ECJ, endorsing the Advocate General's opinion of July 2014, on which we previously reported, has confirmed that discrimination on the grounds of disability alone is not prohibited under EU law. However, obesity might amount to a disability if it causes long term limitations preventing the individual from fully participating in professional life. Such impairments may be physical, mental or psychological, and should be assessed on a case by case basis to determine whether they give rise to disability discrimination protection.

Best practice

It remains the case that an obese individual will not be classed as disabled purely because of their obesity. However, where an individual suffers health problems caused by their obesity, these associated problems may render them disabled for the purposes of discrimination legislation, depending on the specific circumstances. Employers should therefore explore the possibility that such individuals may be disabled, before taking action in relation to their employment.

For more information, please contact Jessica Ryan on 0117 314 5652.

- See more at: http://www.vwv.co.uk/what-s-happening/publication...

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