Obesity ruling could have serious impact on businesses says Shrewsbury law firm
14th January 2015
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Businesses in Shropshire are being warned they could be forced to install special equipment to help clinically obese members of staff do their jobs, after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice.

Lawyers at Lanyon Bowdler Solicitors said the decision relating to the sacking of a Danish childminder who claimed he was discriminated against for being obese could have far-reaching consequences for businesses.

The European Court of Justice found that obesity could fall within the definition of “disability” - meaning that if a person’s weight affects their ability to do their job, their employer may need to take steps to help them.

Jennifer Gibson, associate solicitor in Lanyon Bowdler’s employment law team, said businesses needed to be aware of their responsibilities following the ruling.

She said: “The Equality Act 2010 defines a disability as any physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person's ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

“Just because somebody is obese, it does not mean that they will automatically be disabled – their circumstances must be such that they fall within this definition.

“Employers should therefore consider whether any of their employees or job applicants who are obese are disabled and, if so, whether it is necessary to make reasonable adjustments to help them overcome any substantial disadvantages relating to employment.

“Such adjustments could include, for example, providing adapted chairs or, in the case of employees who have mobility problems, car parking near to the workplace in priority to others.”

Employers are able to get advice and funding through the Access to Work scheme, although approaches to Access to Work have to be made by members of staff rather than employers.

Jennifer said employers should also consider amending their equal opportunities policies and adapting any training to ensure employees were aware that people with obesity might be disabled.

She added: “It is important that staff understand that subjecting anyone classed as obese to harassment or otherwise less favourable treatment might amount to unlawful discrimination – for which discriminating employees can be personally liable, as well as the employer.”

For advice about disability discrimination and other employment law issues, people can contact Jennifer on 01952 211025 or email jennifer.gibson@lblaw.co.uk.

Lanyon Bowdler is one of Shropshire’s largest law firms with offices in Shrewsbury, Telford, Oswestry, Ludlow and Hereford.

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