ECJ obesity ruling 'real problem' for employers

The ruling of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) that obesity can constitute a disability could cause real problems for employers, according to Osborne Clarke employment partner Julian Hemming.

The ECJ ruled that obesity can constitute a disability after a case brought by an overweight Danish childminder found its way to Europe's highest court of law.

Karsten Kaltoft sued his former employers for discrimination after he claimed he was sacked for being overweight. Following the decision Kaltoft will now be assessed in Denmark to judge whether his weight means he will be classed as disabled.

But Hemming claims the ruling is a "real problem" for employers because "it’s still not clear enough for them to be sure that they’re going to be on the right side of the law."

"While the ECJ doesn’t consider obesity a disability in itself, businesses could still face discrimination claims from obese staff if their weight problem is of such a degree that they fall within the definition of having a 'disability' in the legislation," he said.

He added that some of the finer details will also need to be released to avoid further legal and practical complications.

“The ECJ’s press release makes no reference to the level of an individual’s BMI, which we hope will be addressed in the full judgment. Skirting this issue is going to leave the phrase ‘severely obese’ open to judgement and create further confusion for employers and employees," he added.