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  3. European Court rules obesity is a disability – how will this affect business?

Europe’s highest court has ruled that being obese can in fact “constitute a disability”. So now that obesity is a disability, how does this affect a small business?

Here’s what the ruling said:

“Obesity can constitute a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the Employment Equality Directive. While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.”

However, what does this actually mean for your business and how you manage your staff?

Essentially, before taking any formal action against those whose size and weight are affecting their job performance, you may need to make some adjustments. This doesn’t mean just changing processes around disciplinaries or redundancy decisions, but also how you work with your staff on an ongoing basis.

For example, if they are repeatedly late for work, should they be given a parking space closer to the door? Should they be given more rest breaks if they get out of breath more easily? Either of these are things to take into account before looking at a performance review.

However, there would obviously need to be considerations as to what would be fair to other staff who won’t benefit from these considerations.

The main difficulties will be identifying when to classify your staff as obese. Will they need to have a clinical diagnosis, or just be classed as obese on BMI charts? The European court has declined to set a standard, and claimed that it will be decided on a case by case basis.

What’s more, this could even lead to more emphasis on company medicals and assuring you do what you can to avoid your employees becoming overweight in the first place. If the staff member is returning from sick leave also, it may be worth doing a return to work interview to make further enquiries as to their health and wellbeing – that way you don’t get caught out should you find are disabled in some way.

It’s early days as yet, and it would appear that there is much more clarification needed. However it would be best to consider how fairly you treat those who are obese in your business, to ensure you don’t fall foul of any potential litigation in future!

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