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How Danish obesity debate could affect UK employment law

The case of 25-stone Danish childminder Karsten Kaltoft could potentially change UK employment law, as an EU court decides whether or not obesity can be considered a disability.

Mr Kaltoft maintains he was dismissed from his job with Billund local authority after 15 years of service because of his weight, a claim his former employer denies.

Media reports have alleged Mr Kaltoft required help from colleagues to perform his duties, including tying children’s shoelaces, but he remains adamant that his size posed no hindrance to his ability to work.

EU lawmakers must now rule on whether the sacking was discriminatory towards Mr Kaltoft, and the outcome will be binding across the entire European Union. They are expected to reach a decision within the next few weeks.

What happens if obesity is classed as a disability?

If the court finds in favour of Mr Kaltoft, it could mean that employers must regard obesity as a disability. As such, they would be legally required to make special arrangements to accommodate them and ensure they were not disadvantaged by their size.

Some of the possibilities that have been mooted include preferential parking arrangements, larger desks and specially altered chairs. It has also been suggested that businesses could offer staff incentives to reward them for going to the gym and getting fit.

Employers are likely to be watching the outcome of this ruling particularly closely, with the UK home to one of Europe’s highest obesity rates. It is thought that 64% of adults are currently overweight, with 10% of deaths in England and Wales linked to issues caused by obesity.

Dealing with workplace discrimination

Of course, employers must already be aware of the protected characteristics that currently exist to protect workers from discrimination.

These include age, race, sex, disability, sexual orientation and religious belief. Workers who possess at least one of these criteria are protected at all stages of the employment process, including interview and application, promotion and redundancy.

As such, businesses should already have procedures in place to ensure all employees (and job applicants) receive equal treatment.

To find out if your business is compliant with employment law and protected against potential claims, call Ralli today on 0161 832 6131.