How fat is fat enough?! Overweight enough to be protected against discrimination that is?
Last week The Advocate General gave his view that it is unlawful to discriminate against someone on the grounds of obesity. The European Court of Justice (ECJ) now has to decide whether to follow this opinion & create European regulations based upon it, and of course in the UK we’d then need to decide how this is integrated into the Equality Act 2010, so we’re a long way from it being legislation in this country yet.
Signs are there that this will ultimately happen though. Danish courts have already ruled that obesity is a disability whilst in the UK we have a situation whereby if the obesity is causing substantial long term impairments it may be covered by the Equality Act already even though we don’t yet specifically define obesity as disability in the UK. The impact for employers is significant if this does become the case. Not least, the potential for causing offence whilst trying to discuss obesity with employees, attempting to ascertain if their BMI is sufficiently high for them to be afforded protection under the Equality Act, and hence whether there is an obligation to make reasonable workplace adjustments. We know employers find these conversations difficult enough when discussing a disability so we can only anticipate the reluctance to discuss an employee’s weight with them!
Much like the issues that have previously existed where disabilities are perceived to be the individual’s “fault” (HIV & lung cancer often having been subject to this attitude) – how will colleagues respond to protection afforded to obese employees and how will employers manage that situation in the workplace? These are challenges employers will have to consider and tackle.
…and finally – is this really a congruent & healthy message to be giving people at the same time as we focus on seemingly ever increasing obesity issues, morbidity due to weight related illness, general health related concerns and the strain on the NHS?