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Is obesity a disability?

About a quarter of the adult population in the UK is clinically obese and this is set to rise according to NHS statistics. Obesity can be a debilitating condition that is associated with an increased risk of a host of diseases. In terms of the workplace, it can also reduce an employee's ability to carry out work effectively. But is obesity in itself a disability, and if so, what are the implications for employers?

Under the Equality Act 2010, a person is considered to have a disability if he or she has a physical or mental impairment and it has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on his or her ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.

Could this apply to obesity? In one recent case, the Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) ruled that obesity in itself was not a disability under this definition. But it did consider that an obese person may be more likely to come under the definition. For example, diabetes, depression and joint-pain - all associated with and potentially compounded by obesity - may be chronic impairments that have a substantial effect on an individual's everyday life.

In the case, the claimant had 16 medical conditions compounded by obesity, but with no single recognisable cause. The EAT pointed out that the test for disability was not necessarily about causes, but primarily about whether or not there was an impairment and the nature of that impairment. On that basis, they overruled the tribunal and concluded that the claimant was disabled under the definition.

It's unlawful to discriminate against workers because of a physical or mental disability or fail to make reasonable adjustments to accommodate a worker with a disability. Acas provides training on issues surrounding Equality, diversity and the Equality Act 2010 as well as Health, work and wellbeing to help you create a healthy, well-motivated workplace.

Visit the Acas Training and Business Solutions page for more information.

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