Obesity ruling could leave businesses open to harassment claims, warns law firm

19 December 2014 by
Obesity ruling could leave businesses open to harassment claims, warns law firm

The new European Court decision stating that obesity may be classed as a disability could leave employers liable to harassment claims, an employment law firm has warned.

Employment law firm Howard Kennedy has warned that this could leave businesses open to discrimination claims if the company or its other employees are perceived to be treating obese individuals differently, or even perceived to be bullying them because of their size.

Alex Mizzi, an employment and discrimination specialist at law firm Howard Kennedy, said: "This decision could leave employers liable for harassment of such staff by co-workers… if they do not crack down on unfair treatment. In an image-obsessed culture, obese people are particularly vulnerable to bullying and unfair treatment at work."

He added that this would affect all UK businesses, and that employers would "need to demonstrate that they had taken active steps to prevent that harassment in order to defend such claims".

Yesterday's ruling marked the end of the case brought by a Danish childminder who claimed he had been fired due to his weight. With a body mass index (BMI) of 54 - the top end of "normal weight" is 25 â€' he was in the "morbid obesity" category, and it was alleged that he was unable to bend down to tie the children's shoelaces. He claimed that under EU law he should be able to claim disability discrimination in his case.

The new decision did not specify a precise BMI after which an individual could claim, but said that it would depend on their day-to-day work and activity level.

Mizzi added: "Discrimination because of a perceived disability or because of association with a disabled person is also unlawful, even if the worker isn't disabled themselves. The only way to minimise the risk of costly and embarrassing tribunal claims is to create a culture where bullying or unfair treatment of any kind is not tolerated."

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