EU court: obesity could qualify as a disability

Following a preliminary EU court ruling, severe obesity may in future be classified as a disability under EU law. The ruling from the advocate-general of the European Court of Justice on a claim by Karsten Kaltoft, a Danish childminder dismissed by his local city council in 2010 after reportedly being unable to bend down to tie up shoelaces, found that EU law did not prohibit discrimination specifically on the grounds of obesity, but concluded that very severe obesity — classified as a body mass index (BMI) of more than 40 — could be considered a disability.

‘If obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability,’ the advocate-general said. He added that a ‘self-inflicted’ disability such as obesity was as worthy of protection as other disabilities and that the ‘origin of the disability is irrelevant’.

Mr Kaltoft had argued that his weight was one of the reasons why he lost his job, claiming that it amounted to unfair discrimination. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) will now consider Mr Kaltoft’s case in greater detail. If it upholds the advocate-general’s view, it will be up to a Danish court to decide whether Mr Kaltoft’s obesity meets the court’s definition of a disability. However, as the ruling falls under the Equal Treatment in Employment Directive, which is implemented in the UK by way of the Equality Act 2010, the EU ruling would be relevant to all UK employers…

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