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Obesity can be a disability, ECJ rules

Obesity can count as a disability in some circumstances, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

It said that when it 'hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers', obesity fell 'within the concept of "disability"'.

But the ruling acknowledged that no EU law prohibited discrimination on the grounds of obesity in itself.

Disability, on the other hand, is a protected characteristic in equality legislation, making discrimination against people with disabilities unlawful.

Sacked 'for being fat'

The case involved a Danish childminder who brought a discrimination claim against his employers, saying he had been sacked because of his weight.

The ruling stated that if obesity 'entails a limitation which results in physical, mental or psychological impairments' affecting their participation at work, and the limitation is long-term, it could count as a disability.

The ECJ referred the case back to the Danish national courts, saying it was up to them to determine whether the claimant's obesity fell within the definition of disability.

Legal experts suggested that employers across the EU may have to make such considerations on a case by case basis in their own workplaces.

They said that obese workers whose weight hinders their participation at work could also be entitled to 'reasonable adjustments' in the manner of people with other disabilities.

This might include specially designed seating and desks, and dedicated car parking, for example.

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