Is obesity a disability? ECJ Judgement

Posted on 1st January, 2015

Estimated reading time 3 minutes

In a decision that could have a significant impact for employers, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that obesity could, in some cases, be a disability. 

In November 2010, Mr Kaltoft, a Danish childminder, was dismissed after 15 years’ service.   He was severely obese during his employment.  Mr Kaltoft claimed that he was the only childminder made redundant and that the decision was because of his obesity; as a result he brought discrimination proceedings.   The Danish court asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify:

  1. Is discrimination on the grounds of obesity in the workplace prohibited under any general principle of EC law?  The ECJ said ‘no’.

  2. Can obesity constitute a "disability" under the EC Equal Treatment Directive (the Directive)? The ECJ said ‘yes’ if the employee’s obesity ‘hinders on their full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers’

According to the ECJ’s ruling, an obese person will only be considered to be disabled if they satisfy certain criteria relating to disability under national law.  However, it seems likely that a severely obese employee will now only need to reference the fact his or her mobility makes working life more challenging, in order to claim protection under discrimination legislation. 

Although obesity does not automatically mean that an employee is disabled, employers need to consider whether they can and should make any reasonable adjustments to make working life fairer for any obese employees.   


Further information

For further information or to discuss any of the issues raised, please contact Emma Clark at Abbiss Cadres on (+44) 203 051 5711.


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