Home' Trinidad and Tobago Guardian : December 22nd 2014 Contents B28
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Guardian www.guardian.co.tt Monday, December 22, 2014
Judges said that
obesity in itself was
not a disability---but if
a person had a long-
because of their
obesity, then they
would be protected by
Obesity can constitute a disability in certain
circumstances, the EU s highest court has ruled.
The European Court of Justice was asked to
consider the case of a male childminder in Denmark
who says he was sacked for being too fat.
The court said that if obesity could hinder "full
and effective participation" at work then it could
count as a disability.
The ruling is binding across the EU. Judges said
that obesity in itself was not a disability---but if
a person had a long-term impairment because of
their obesity, then they would be protected by dis-
The case centres around childminder Karsten
Kaltoft who weighs about 160kg.
He brought a discrimination case against his
employers of 15 years, Billund local authority, after
he was sacked four years ago.
The authority said a fall in the number of children
meant Kaltoft was no longer required.
But Kaltoft said he was dismissed because he
Earlier this year, he told the BBC that reports
that he was so fat he was unable to bend down
to tie children s shoelaces were untrue.
Describing his work with children, he said: "I
can sit on the floor and play with them, I have
no problems like that.
"I don t see myself as disabled. It s not OK just
to fire a person because they re fat, if they re doing
their job properly."
The Danish courts asked the European Court
of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether obesity was a
The ECJ ruled that if the obesity of the worker
"hinders the full and effective participation of that
person in professional life on an equal basis with
other workers", then obesity can fall within the
concept of "disability".
Rulings from the European Court of Justice are
binding for all EU member nations.
The courts in Denmark will now have to assess
Kaltoft s weight to see if his case can be classed
as a disability. Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman
of the British Obesity Society, said obesity should
not be classed as a disability.
She told the BBC: "I think the downside would
be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring
that they ve got wider seats, larger tables, more
parking spaces for people who are obese, I think
then we re just making the situation worse.
"(It is) implying that people have no control
over the condition, rather than something that
can be greatly improved by changing behaviour."
Paul Callaghan, head of employment law at
international law firm Taylor Wessing, said the
ruling does not change UK law.
"The European Court of Justice has ruled that
obesity itself is not a disability, but that the effects
of it can be.
"As such, workers who suffer from, for example,
joint problems, depression, or diabetes - specifically
because of their size - will be protected by the
European Equal Treatment Framework Directive
and cannot be dismissed because of their weight."
Audrey Williams, employment law partner at
Eversheds, said the mere fact someone is obese is
not enough to make them disabled.
"What the court are saying is that obesity is
not protected unless it hinders professional life."
She said the ruling would increase awareness
among employers of their responsibility towards
obese employees in the workplace. This could
include making reasonable adjustments to working
arrangements, seating arrangements or making
access to the office easier. However, Tam
Fry, from the National Obesity Forum,
said the ruling had opened a can of
worms for UK employers. "They will be
required to make adjustments to their
furniture and doors and whatever is need-
ed for very large people.
"I believe it will also cause friction in
the workplace between obese people and
other workers." One in four people in the
UK is classified as obese. (BBC)
Court rulses obesity can be
deemed a disability at work
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