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Obesity May Now Be Considered a Disability

A preliminary EU court ruling has determined that severe obesity in the future may be classified as a disability under EU law.

The advocate general of the European Court of Justice made this ruling based on a claim by Danish childminder, Karsten Kaltoft.

Mr Kartolf was employed by his local city council but lost his job in 2010 after allegedly being unable to bend down to tie up children’s shoelaces. Mr Kaltoft argued that his obesity was a factor in his dismissal, and claimed that this amounted to unfair discrimination.

The court declared that while EU law did not prohibit discrimination explicitly on the grounds of obesity, very severe obesity (a body mass index of more than 40) may be considered a disability. The Advocate General said;

“If obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability,”

Furthermore, he also stated that “origin of the disability is irrelevant”, meaning that a “self-inflicted” disability like obesity was to be protected in the same way as other disabilities.

The ECJ will now consider Mr Kaltoft’s further and decide whether to uphold the advocate general’s view. If so, the Danish court will it will be decide whether Mr Kaltoft's obesity falls within the court's definition of a disability.

Most importantly, the ruling falls under the Equal Treatment in Employment Directive, which is implemented in the UK by way of the Equality Act 2010. This means that the EU ruling would be relevant to all UK employers.It is believed that the impact of this ruling could be very far reaching indeed. Employers may come under a legal obligation to make adjustments to their premesis to make them more accessible for obese people.

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