(Bloomberg) — The European Union’s highest court extended discrimination laws to obesity, saying employees in limited situations may be able to sue over firings if their weight hinders or limits them at work.
Workers who are so overweight that they can’t do their job in the same way as colleagues may be able to claim disability, the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg ruled today. The court stopped short of grouping obesity with other physical infirmities.
The decision clarifies that while “obesity itself is not a disability, the effects of it can be,” said Paul Callaghan, head of employment at law firm Taylor Wessing LLP in London. “Workers who suffer from, for example, joint problems, depression or diabetes — specifically because of their size — will be protected” under EU law “and cannot be dismissed because of their weight.”
Obesity has reached epidemic proportions globally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), which says at least 2.8 million people die each year as a result of being overweight or obese. People with a BMI (body mass index) of more than 25 are classified as overweight and a BMI of more than 30 is obese. As many as 30 percent of adults in Europe are obese, the WHO says.
The concept of disability “must be understood as referring not only to the impossibility of exercising a professional activity, but also to a hindrance to the exercise of such an activity,” the court said.