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Thursday, 18 December 2014

Obesity can be disability: EU court

LONDON: Employers across the European Union and UK will now have to treat obese workers as disabled. 

A landmark ruling by Europe's highest court - The European Court of Justice rules that "obesity can constitute a disability within the meaning of the Employment Equality Directive" meaning that offices in EU and UK will be required to treat obese workers as disabled, providing them with larger seats, special parking spaces and facilities. 

This also means that just like discrimination based on religion, belief, disability, age or sexual orientation in relation to employment is prohibited, not hiring or firing someone on the basis that he or she is fat will now be prohibited. 

The court said, "while no general principle of EU law prohibits discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of 'disability' where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers." 

The court was hearing proceedings brought by a Danish child minder Karsten Kaltoft who alleged that he was dismissed by his local authority Billund Kommune due to him being obese. The authority claimed that he was unable to perform his duties, for example, needing the help of a colleague to tie a child's shoe-laces. 

Legal experts had said that if Kaltoft who weighed more than 158 kg won the case, obesity would need to be approached just like any other physical or mental impairment, preventing an employer from treating an employee less favourably because of their weight. This would include the ability to dismiss. 

The court said that no provision of the Treaties or of secondary EU legislation prohibits discrimination on grounds of obesity as such. In particular, the Employment Equality Directive does not cite obesity as a ground for discrimination. 

As for whether obesity can constitute a 'disability' within the meaning of the directive, the court observed that the purpose of the directive is to lay down a general framework for combating discrimination, in the area of employment and occupation, on any of the grounds referred to in the directive, which include disability. 

It said "The concept of 'disability' within the meaning of the directive must be understood as referring to a limitation which results in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers." 

Furthermore, the court observed that "employers must take in each particular case so as to enable a person with a disability to have access to, participate in, or advance in employment (unless such measures result in a disproportionate burden being imposed on the employer)."