19 December 2014
The European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity can be a disability, in FOA v Billund – a landmark case that could affect employment rights across Europe.
The case concerned a Danish child minder who was dismissed due to redundancy by his local city council employer in 2010. Karsten Kaltof weighed over 25st (160kg) when he lost his job. His lawyers claimed that his weight was one of the principle reasons for his dismissal, and it therefore constituted unfair discrimination.
It should be noted that the ruling falls short of classifying obesity as a protected characteristic against which all discrimination is prohibited.
Kaltof’s lawyer said: “This ruling clearly establishes that the notion of disability is to be construed to the effect that clinical obesity also may qualify as an impairment enjoying protection under the relevant rule,” he said. “It is the first time ever that a case has been brought at EU level regarding protection as a result of clinical obesity.
“The ruling implies that there will be a shared burden of proof in relation to the discrimination of employees suffering from clinical obesity and that employers in relation to this group of employees will be obliged to initiate appropriate measures in order to remedy any functional defects.”
The ECJ ruling stated that: “While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers …
“Such would be the case, in particular, if the obesity of the worker hindered that participation on account of reduced mobility or the onset of medical conditions preventing that person from carrying out work or causing discomfort when exercising professional activity.”