European court rules obesity is a disability

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that obesity is a disability.


The ECJ found that while no general principle of European Union (EU) law prohibits discrimination on the grounds of obesity, the condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ and whether it hinders participation in professional life.

The case of Karsten Kaltoft v Billund, in which a childminder who weighed 25 stone and had a body mass index (BMI) of 54 was dismissed because his size prohibited him from carrying out some of the duties of his role, began earlier this year.

Previously, the Advocate General of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) held that severe or morbid obesity (but not mere obesity) could amount to a disability by law.

The ECJ has now ruled that obesity in itself is not a disability but the symptoms and the medical and physical side effects of obesity can be.

Paul Callaghan, head of employment law at international law firm Taylor Wessing, said: “The European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity itself is not a disability, but that the effects of it can be.

“As such, workers who suffer from, joint problems, depression, or diabetes, specifically because of their size, will be protected by the European Equal Treatment Framework Directive and cannot be dismissed because of their weight.”

Jillian Naylor, employment partner at law firm Linklaters, added: “Whereas employers are not usually concerned about the origin of a disabled employee’s impairment, where the impairment is caused or aggravated by obesity, it is more emotive, as it is something over which individuals have perceived control. Employers will need to be sensitive to this. Not every obese employee is disabled.

”Employers must make adjustments to accommodate any special requirements arising from a person’s disability.  This applies equally where the origin of the disability is obesity.

”Obesity, particularly severe obesity, can be a sensitive subject, so employers will have to tread carefully and not make assumptions about the needs of an obese worker.”