In response to the claim of a Danish employee who claimed that he had been dismissed because he was obese, the European Court of Justice has decided that obesity could, in some circumstances, be a disability.
The Court did not go so far as to say that obesity was itself a protected characteristic, along with race, sex and age for example, but did say that it could constitute a disability if it hindered full and effective participation in a professional life. This is the only parameter that was set in terms of help to identify whether someone is to be classed as having a disability due to their obesity. It may mean that employers will struggle to identify exactly who is protected under discrimination legislation and who is not.
It may ultimately be possible, then, for someone to claim that:
- They have been harassed by you because of their weight. You may also be liable for any harassment undertaken by your other employees even if you do not know it is happening;
- That you have treated them less favourably than their colleagues because of their weight; or
- That you have failed to make reasonable adjustments to their role to remove the barriers that their weight is creating in performing your job.
As this is a recent decision, it may well be an area of rapid development during 2015.
If you would like further clarification on this issue please contact the Peninsula Advice Service on 0844 892 2772.