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Is obesity a disability?

In Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund, the European Court of Justice has held that EU law does not prohibit discrimination on the grounds of obesity. The ECJ instead considered whether obesity could be a disability.

Mr Kaltoft was employed by a local council in Denmark as a child-minder. He was clinically obese with a Body Mass Index of 54, which would be ‘severe, extreme or morbid obesity’ under the World Health Organisation classification. He was dismissed and he argued that the reason was his obesity.

The ECJ held that obesity could be a disability if the obesity “entails a limitation resulting in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other worker.” It will be for the tribunals to assess whether or not this test is met in individual cases. However, if an obese employee is likely to meet this test, then an employer is under a duty to make reasonable adjustments to assist the employee.

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About the Author

Simon Shepherd

Partner

As Partner and Head of the Employment department Simon undertakes all types of employment work.…

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