European court says “obesity could be a disability”

The EU’s highest court has ruled that obesity can constitute a disability in certain circumstances, setting a precedent which could have major repercussions for employers across the continent.

The European Court of Justice was asked to consider the case of a Danish childminder, Karsten Kaltoft, who claims that he was sacked for being too fat.

Following his dismissal four years ago, he brought a discrimination case against his former employer, Billund local authority.

Examining the case, judges in Luxembourg concluded that obesity could not be classified as a disability itself. However, a person suffering a long-term impairment, which resulted from being severely overweight, would be protected by disability laws.

Courts in Denmark will now have to assess Mr Kaltoft, who is around 25st, to see if his case meets these criteria.

The ramifications of the judgement are already being examined by employment lawyers, since the court’s rulings are binding in all EU member states.

Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman of the British Obesity Society, told the BBC she had concerns about today’s developments.

“I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situation worse.

“[It is] implying that people have no control over the condition, rather than something that can be greatly improved by changing behaviour.”

The World Health Organisation says that anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30 or more is classed as obese. In the UK, around one in four people fall into this category.

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Nigel is the Managing Partner and Head of Litigation and Dispute Resolution in the London office of Mackrell Turner Garrett.