Should Employers Categorize Obese People As Disabled?

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Obesity is a medical condition, and can have an extremely negative impact upon the body and its functions. Authorities now view it as one of the most serious public health problems of the 21st century as they are aware of the problems it can cause, which is why the European Union are questioning whether obesity should be categorized as a disability under equality at work legislation.

The notion followed a claim made by Karsten Kaltoft, a Danish childminder, stating that he was unfairly dismissed for being overweight. He said that he was fired because he was 25 stone and needed help tying up children’s shoe laces. His employer argues that obesity is a self-inflicted functional defect, and therefore should not receive special treatment.The final judgement will be made by EU courts.

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If they accept the claim, it will mean that British companies will be required to treat obese workers as disabled, and therefore provide them with larger seats, special parking spaces and other provisional facilities. There are no current laws prohibiting discrimination against obesity, although it has the ability to hinder full participation in professional life and equality.

Niilo Jaaskinen, advocate general for the European Court of Justice, argued for the legislation to be passed because it should not matter how one becomes disabled – even if it is caused by overeating. He stated that disability is an objective matter, and therefore it should not be dependent upon whether it was self-inflicted or not, because people will still suffer with the same problems. He also stated that if it were the case that people with self-inflicted disabilities were not classed as disabled, it would mean people who are disabled from things like sport, should also be excluded from the classification of the disabled.

Despite the problems obese people face, Kaltoft has denied all accusations that he was unable to fulfil his job role because of his body weight, and mentioned that he could easily sit and play with the children on the floor etc. If the EU court does rule in his favour, employers will have to find ways to ensure fat employees are not facing any disadvantages, or are unfairly discriminated against.

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Michael Lewin

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