Workplace discrimination could be extended to include obese people

A leading employment lawyer has warned that businesses in East Lancashire need to brace themselves for a legal obligation to offer obese workers special benefits.

This comes after a claim that a 25-stone Danish childminder was dismissed from his job because he was overweight.

The Advocate General of the European court of Justice (ECJ) has given an opinion on the case and claimed ‘if obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability’.

He also stated that those with extreme obesity, classified as having a body mass index (BMI) of more than 40, could be considered disabled.

If the Court agree when they make their decision, it would have significant repercussions on employers, forcing widespread changes in the way employers deal with staff.

Michael Shroot, head of employment law at Woodcocks Haworth and Nuttall, said: “An advocate general's opinion is not binding but is usually followed by the courts.

“East Lancashire business owners therefore need to be aware that morbid obesity could be regarded as a disability and ensure adequate support is in place for staff.

“Investment may also be needed to adjust the working environment such as reserved parking, efficient seating and providing services which require less exertion. “While this may present a burden in terms of expense, taking steps like this can minimise the risk of a complaint by a staff and a costly employment tribunal can be greatly reduced.”