ECJ Hands Down Judgment in Obesity Discrimination Case

Lawyer Describes It As 'Significant' For Businesses


David Shirt, Press Officer | 0161 838 3094

The European Court of Justice has ruled that individuals who are obese could also be considered to be disabled.

The judgment relates to the case of Danish nursery worker, Karsten Kaltoft, who was sacked by his local authority, Billund Kommune, purportedly on the grounds of redundancy. Mr Kaltoft argued that this explanation was a sham and that he had been dismissed because he could not bend down to tie up a child’s shoe laces.

Karsten Kaltoft claimed he was discriminated against because of his size and weight and the Danish courts referred the issue to the ECJ.

The court, whose laws are binding throughout EU members states such as the UK, has said obesity could be considered a disability if it "hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers".

Omer Simjee, Employment partner at Irwin Mitchell said:

Expert Opinion
This is a significant ruling and although being 'fat' is not enough in itself to be considered disabled, it could if it restricts an individual’s ability to actively and fully engage in their work. That said, it would appear as though there does not need to be an underlying medical condition necessary. This is new and will in appropriate cases mean that severe obesity in its own right can be deemed to be a disability.

“With one in four adults in the UK being classed as clinically obese, this represents a major headache for UK businesses. They will need to alive to the heightened risk of claims and there is a high likelihood that an employer could be under a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to accommodate overweight employees including a legal obligation to provide car park spaces close to the workplace entrance, provide special desks and chairs, or provide duties which involve reduced walking or travelling.”
Omer Simjee, Partner