Court of Justice (ECJ) judgement on obesity and disability discrimination

A recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) judgement on obesity and disability discrimination has drawn attention to an issue that employers may need to consider.

The Equality Act 2010 aims to protect employees with a disability from less favourable treatment at work.  The Act defines a person as disabled if they have a physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on their ability to carry out normal activities.  The Act places a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace where a disabled employee is placed at a disadvantage.  This duty arises if an employer knows, or should know, that an employee is disabled.

A recent ECJ ruling has focused on whether obesity can be considered as disability in the workplace.  The ECJ decided that obesity may be considered a disability where it ‘hinders a person’s full and effective participation in professional life’.  An example could be where obesity reduces the mobility of an individual.  Employers should also note that medical conditions linked with obesity may make the employee disabled regardless of their obesity, such as diabetes, asthma and heart disease.

What this means is that employers will have a duty to make reasonable adjustments if obesity places an employee at a disadvantage at work.  This could include supplying larger desks and chairs or providing parking spaces closer to the front door.  Failure to make reasonable adjustments could be interpreted as disability discrimination and leave the employer open to an Employment Tribunal claim.