Kate Brooks
Partner, Solicitor & Head of Employment/HR Services
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Date Published:10 Mar 2016 Last Updated:01 Aug 2021

Obesity could be a disability

Employment Law Advice

EU court has stated that obesity could be a disability and mean that obese employees are protected from discrimination in the workplace. Click here to view the full Judgement.

In our opinion this does not represent a change to the law as it currently stands. The EU law is incorporated into the UK laws though the Equality Act 2010 which provides the following protection for those who are disabled:

  1. Not to be treated unfavourably directly because of a disability or something arising from that disability for example time off sick;
  2. Not to be subjected to a practice, criterion or process that puts disabled people at a disadvantage;
  3. Right to have reasonable adjustments to work place or practices considered by employer;
  4. Not to be made to feel offended, degraded, or humiliated as a result of a disability;
  5. Not to be victimised having raised complaints about any of the above.

Disability is defined in the Equality Act and ultimately it would be up to a tribunal judge to decide if an employee is disabled. However, employers are expected to be aware of disabilities even if they have not been directly told by the employee.

The following constitutes a disability for the purposes of the Equality Act:

  1. Physical or mental impairment;
  2. Long term – has or likely to last for 12 months;
  3. Substantial and adverse effect on ability to carry out day to day activities.

As a result if obesity causes the above the employee may be considered to be disabled and gain the protection.

Top tips for employers (not just in relation to obese employees but everyone):

  1. Not having direct knowledge of an employee’s disability is not an excuse – employers are expected to be aware if the employee displays warning signs for example struggling with work, having time off;
  2. In any HR situation for example redundancy or performance management consider whether a person may be suffering from a disability and whether the employer’s policies put that person at a disadvantage;
  3. If an employee requests adjustments to their role – consider whether these are reasonable.

If you are experiencing issues with any of the above please contact me at kate.brooks@ellisjones.co.uk.