Springhouse Solicitors

Obesity can constitute a disability

Mr Kaltoft is 1.72 metres tall and weighs over 100kg. This gives him a BMI of 54, which is classified as severe or extreme morbid obesity.

We have recently reported about obesity and disability law. In the recent case of Kaltoft v. Municipality of Billund, the European Court of Justice has confirmed categorically that obesity can amount to a disability.

Background

When he was dismissed from his employment as a child-minder in Denmark, Mr Kaltoft claimed that this was because of his obesity, and that this amounted to unlawful discrimination. The Danish Court dealing with the case referred to the European Court of Justice the question of whether obesity falls within the European Directive prohibiting discrimination in the labour market.

The European Court found that it did. This is where the obesity entails long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments, hindering participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers. This would be the case, in particular, where mobility is reduced, or other medical conditions result from the obesity.

Implications

The focus of the ECJ was whether or not the obesity hinders full and effective participation in working life. This is a slightly different perspective from the one taken in UK legislation, which focuses on day to day, as opposed to professional, activities.

However, this is a wake-up call for employers who may assume, quite wrongly, that obesity does not amount to a protected characteristic which is covered by discrimination law.