Should obesity be defined as a disability?

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Employers may have to adjust policies as EU test case investigates whether obesity can be classed as a disability

The European Court of Justice is being asked to rule on a unique case of a Danish male childminder, who feels he was sacked for being too fat. The results of this rare case will be binding across the EU and could lead to employers treating obese people as disabled.

With over half of the adults in the UK labelled as overweight, this could be a significant case with impacts for employers, as this could mean that they have to create reserved car parking spaces for obese staff, or adjust the office furniture for them.

The childminder involved in the case is 25 stone Karsten Kaltoft, who says that although “bad habits” made him pile on the pounds this was not a problem at work.

Unique case

Mr Kaltoft denied reports that he was unable to bend low enough to tie children’s shoelaces, telling BBC News “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that. I don’t see myself as disabled. We hope the outcome is that it’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”

Mr Kaltoft worked for Billund local authority for 15 years before being dismissed, apparently due to a decline in children. The authority had tried to help Mr Kaltoft lose weight by paying for a gym membership for three months.

Audrey Williams, an employment discrimination expert at Eversheds law firm, said the judges would have to decide “whether obesity itself should trigger preferential rights, or should only impact where an individual, due to obesity, has other recognised medical issues”.