Monday, 21 July 2014

Weighty problem for employers

Employers are facing up to a weighty new employment issue – what to do if they feel obesity is preventing a worker from carrying out their duties efficiently.

Martin-Kaye Solicitors says bosses could soon have to start making more allowances for overweight staff after the European Court of Justice ruled it could be considered a ‘disability’.

Europe’s top court had been called in to rule on the issue of Danish childminder called Karsten Kaltoft, who weighed 25-stone, and said he was sacked by his employer. The court was asked to rule on the legality of the case, and it decided that anyone with a Body Mass Index of 40 or more could be considered disabled if the obesity had a real impact on their ability to work.

“British law gives protected employment rights to people who have a registered disability, but the question of whether this should include obesity has never been raised,” said Martin-Kaye employment law specialist Tina Chander.

“This European court ruling could have significant implications for employers. For example, they may have to start considering whether staff need parking spaces closer to the front door, specially adapted desks and chairs, or a change in their duties to reduce the amount of walking or travelling.

“This test case has been considered especially significant because of rising obesity levels across the UK. A survey in England in 2012 found that more than half of adults were technically obese or overweight.”

It was reported that Mr Kaltoft’s employer, Billund Kommune, sacked him because he was deemed unable to perform his duties due to his size, citing the fact that he required help from a colleague to tie up children's shoelaces.

The European Court of Justice were asked to decide whether obesity is covered under the EU's Employment Equality Directive, which outlaws job discrimination on grounds of disability.

Tina said: “This doesn’t just impact on existing staff. Employers will have to carefully consider how they go about conducting job interviews, making sure they are not guilty of discriminating against candidates on the back of first impressions over their size or shape.”