Wragge Lawrence Graham & Co

UK 200 2014 position: 28

Is obesity a ‘disability’?

By Connie Cliff

Does the fact that a person is obese mean they are, or could be, ‘disabled’ for the purposes of the Equality Act 2010? If their obesity has an impact on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities, should they be protected from discrimination because they are overweight?

On 12 June 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) began hearing the Danish reference of Kaltoft considering whether discrimination on the grounds of obesity is contrary to EU law. In particular, whether obesity can be deemed to be a handicap covered by the relevant Council Directive (which the EA 2010 implements in the UK).

Widening the scope of protection could increase the burden on employers in managing the varying needs of the workforce. Sixty-seven per cent of men and 57 per cent of women in the UK are classed as either overweight or obese. Should the CJEU hold that obesity itself can amount to a disability, there would be a significant rise in the number of employees potentially classed as disabled and for whom an employer may potentially need to make reasonable adjustments in relation to their working conditions…

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