In December 2014, the European Court of Justice ruled that obesity can be classed as a disability. The ruling came after a case involving a Danish childminder who was sacked by his local authority for being too overweight to tie children’s shoelaces and other basic duties that were part of his role. The EU ruling stated that if obesity prevents “full and effective participation” in the workplace, it can be classed as a disability.
In the UK, a quarter of all adults are defined as clinically obese, with many using a mobility scooter or electric wheelchair to improve mobility. For many of those who struggle with obesity, this new ruling is a positive step, as it could lead to positive changes in the workplace, such as medical advice, the opportunity to work from home, parking spaces close to the building or office furniture that is more comfortable for those with a larger frame. The precedent set here could mean that those who are sacked because of their size could successfully go through compensation proceedings in court.
However, there are many criticisms of the rulings, primarily amongst those who believe that as obesity is a condition that can be changed, it should not be seen in the same way as other disabilities over which sufferers have no control. There are also critics who say that if obesity is classed as a disability, it could actually discourage those who are seriously overweight from losing weight, as they will be treated more favourably because of their size.
This doesn’t mean blanket changes, though, as workplace issues relating to obesity will be dealt with on a case by case basis.