January 14, 2015

Obesity can be a disability

The ECJ was asked to consider the case of a Danish child-minder, Karsten Kaltoft, who claimed 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, of itself, obesity could not be classified as a disability. However, a person suffering a long-term impairment, which resulted from being severely overweight, could be protected by disability laws if the person’s condition hindered their ability to take part fully in everyday professional life in the same way as others who are not obese.

The Courts in Denmark will now have to assess Mr Kaltoft, who is around 25st and has a body mass index of 54, to see if his case meets these criteria, since the case has been remitted back to the Danish courts to assess the case on the basis of the ECJ judgment.

There are some interesting facts about this case, not least of them that Mr Kaltoft had started work at the nursery in 1996 obese, remained obese throughout his employment (despite unsuccessful attempts to lose weight) – and was actually dismissed because fewer children were using the nursery, meaning that the local authority which ran the nursery needed to reduce the number of child minders. So Mr Kaltoft was actually made redundant – but of course argued that his selection for redundancy was because of his obesity.

The ECJ held that the origins of the condition amounting to a disability are irrelevant; the issue is whether the condition (physical, mental or psychological) impairs a person’s ability to fully and effectively participate in working life to the same extent as others.

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.

This legal update is provided for general information purposes only and should not be applied to specific circumstances without prior consultation with us.

For further details on any of the issues covered in this update please contact Gemma Ospedale, Partner in Employment on 020 7583 2222.

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