Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.

Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.


Obesity ruled a disability in Europe

22 December 2014, 11:23

Europe's top court ruled that obese people can be considered as disabled, but stopped short of saying that obesity was a condition that needed specific protection under European anti-discrimination laws.

The landmark decision will be closely read by European employers and means that companies might have to provide greater support to obese staff.

The case was instigated by a Danish court, which wanted guidance over a complaint of unfair dismissal brought by a child-minder who was sacked by a local authority.

Unlawful discrimination

Karsten Kaltoft, who never weighed less than 160 kilograms (352 pounds) during his employment, argued that his obesity was one of the reasons he lost his job and that this amounted to unlawful discrimination – an allegation the council denied.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (EJC) ruled that EU employment law did not specifically prohibit discrimination on the grounds of obesity, and said the law should not be extended to make it a protected category.

Also Read: Craving sugar? Blame your brain

However, the Luxembourg-based court said that if an employee's obesity hindered "full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers" then it could be considered a disability.

This, in turn, is covered by anti-discrimination legislation.

Classifying obesity as a protected characteristic – such as sex, race or age – would have required employers to take measures to ensure obese workers could perform their duties on an equal footing with others.

Can of worms

"It would have opened a can of worms," said Crowley Woodford, employment partner at law firm Ashurst.

However, Friday's nuanced ruling still leaves companies open to potential discrimination suits.

"If you consider the obese disabled, all of a sudden it triggers certain protections for employees," said Jacob Sand, a partner at Danish law firm Gorrissen Federspiel which represented Kaltoft.

Also Read: Obese boys become impotent men

Considering obesity a disability also reverses the burden of proof in workplace disputes over discrimination, Sand added, meaning it will be easier for employees to argue they had been discriminated against on the basis of their disability.

"That makes it a whole lot easier for employees in that it is easier to win the case," Sand said.

Adjustments must be considered

However it does not mean that employers cannot fire someone whose size means that they are unable to do their job, rather that they must consider whether any adjustments need to be made to help the employee perform their role first, said Stefan Martin, employment partner at law firm Mayer Brown.

According to statistics from the World Health Organisation (WHO), based on 2008 estimates, roughly 23 percent of European women and 20 percent of European men were obese.

The issue of whether obesity is a disability has also been dealt with in U.S. courts, where almost one in three adults is obese, according to WHO data.

Some states, such as Michigan, have enacted legislation that explicitly prohibits discrimination on the basis of a person's weight.

The Danish court must now decide whether Kaltoft's obesity represented a disability. It is expected to reach a decision before the end of next year. Kaltoft had asked for compensation equivalent to 15 months' salary for his dismissal, Sand said.

- Reuters


Read News24’s Comments Policy

Comment on this story
Comments have been closed for this article.

Read more from our Users

Nigeria @ 56: Words to my green f...

A leader’s job is not to dictate, but rather to be respected, admired and be a trustee, of the land we love, with so much potential, a land which should be freer than free. Its still a long way to fufilling our destiny! Read more...

Submitted by
Isaac Asabor263
Recession: An opportunity for Nig...

The recession should be seen as an opportunity for the country’s promotion as long as we all collectively conduct ourselves in a patriotic manner, writes Isaac Asabor.  Read more...

Submitted by
Black and White

We want to imitate the whites in everything because we are ignorant of our inherent originality and content. We spend all our Naira to acquire his inventions because we so oblivious of our natural endowments that we allow him have it for free. Read more...

Submitted by
Nate Nat
Adamawa State University Mubi: A ...

ADSU integrity forum has accused the Sunday Joshua Wugira, a lawyer, of adopting unorthodox tactics by abusing his privilege by attacking the integrity of ADSU Vice Chancellor Dr. Moses Zira Zaruwa, writes a News24 reader. Read more...

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
My Country Nigeria (Part One)

Poetry by Abdulsalam Jubril.

Submitted by
Abdulsalam Jubril
Recession, dearth in leadership a...

Every leader has the opportunity to become great and making himself immortal in the lives and hearts of people for generations to come. Will Mr. President seize this opportunity?, questions Abdulsalam Jubril. Read more...