Businesses ‘should help staff live healthy lifestyles’ following obesity ruling

Employers should do what they can to help staff live healthier lives, an expert has warned following a landmark legal ruling which could see obesity classed as a disability in the UK.

Chris Boyle, partner and head of the employment team at Napthens, warns the high profile Danish court case of Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund will now influence the law in this country as employment tribunals must interpret UK law in keeping with European law.

The case saw an overweight man bring a claim for disability discrimination against the Municipality of Billund after he was fired from his job as a childminder because of his weight.

Now the European Court of Justice has ruled that in certain circumstances obesity may be a disability under European law.

Chris has revealed that the legal community will be watching with interest to see how this is interpreted in the UK, and warned that employers should make changes to working practices in preparation.

He said: “Initially this judgement will raise more questions than it does answers. Obesity is not currently a ‘protected characteristic’ in UK law – one of those characteristics like race and gender that is protected from discrimination, and the ruling does not suggest obesity is itself a protected characteristic under European Law.

“However, there will also be relevant questions around when someone’s obesity would amount to a disability under the Equality Act – for instance would this be by weight, BMI or other measurements, or would it be decided by impact on day-to-day life in accordance with part of the accepted disability test, offering protection from discrimination in this regard.

“In anticipation of this, employers should look to extend their obligations as to the care of their employees’ health and lifestyle. For instance, they could assist employees in making smarter food choices through education, and subsidise gym memberships. “Businesses unsure of their responsibilities should seek advice.”