28th Oct 2016

Obesity could qualify as disability, says EU court

  • The ruling could have far-reaching implications for employers (Photo: Steve Baker)

Obesity may be considered a disability if it affects how a person does their job and so could fall under EU rules banning discrimination in the workplace, the EU's top court said Thursday (17 July) in an opinion set to be closely studied by employers.

"Morbid obesity may come within the meaning of ‘disability’ if it is of such a degree as to hinder full participation in professional life on an equal footing with other employees,” said advocate general Niilo Jaaskinen.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

The case arrived at the European Court of Justice after Karsten Kaltoft, a child-minder Denmark, claimed he unfairly lost his job because of his weight.

Kaltoft had been working for a local municipality for 15 years looking after children in his own home when his contract was not renewed in 2010.

He said this was due to his size – something denied by his employers – as he is officially classified as obese, and claimed damages for discrimination.

The Danish court asked its EU counterpart to decide whether obesity could be included as a reason for unlawful discrimination by employers.

Jaaskinen said "there is no general, stand-alone prohibition on discrimination on grounds of obesity in EU law."

But he noted that obesity could fall under the scope of the EU employment law that bans discrimination on the grounds of disability in the workplace.

The opinion was clear that only “extreme, severe, or morbid obesity” could eventually be classified as a disability.

Richie Alder, employment partner at law firm Trowers & Hamlins in the UK, said the ruling appeared to send a "contradictory messsage" employers.

He noted that while obesity may not automatically lead to employees having to make "reasonable adjustments" to the workplace to accommodate them, a person with morbid or severe obesity could be classifed as having a disability so "reasonable adjustments may need to be made".

The EU court still has to give a final ruling on the matter, though it follows the Advocate General’s opinion in the majority of cases.

The final decision on Kaltoft’s case will be taken by the court in Denmark.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ANCI LazioAnci Lazio Definetely has a lot to Celebrate This Year
  2. EU-China ForumDebating the Future of the EU-China Relations on 28 November in Prague
  3. COMECEMigrants: From Fear to Compassion
  4. Birdlife EuropeBusiness as Usual - Juncker Snubs Environment and Protects Broken CAP
  5. EFADraft Bill for a 2nd Scottish Independence Referendum
  6. UNICEFCalls on European Council to Address Plight of Refugee and Migrant Children
  7. ECTAJoin us on 9-10 November in Brussels and Discover the new EU Digital Landscape
  8. Access NowCan you Hear me now? Verizon’s Opportunity to Stand for Global Users
  9. Belgrade Security ForumMeaningful Dialogue Missing Not Only in the Balkans, but Throughout Europe
  10. EuropecheEU Fishing Sector Celebrates Sustainably Sourced Seafood in EU Parliament
  11. World VisionWomen and Girls Urge EU Leadership to Help end Gender-based Violence
  12. Belgrade Security ForumGet the Latest News and Updates on the Belgrade Security Forum @BelSecForum

Latest News

  1. Greece to probe UN allegations of illegal returns
  2. Poland defies EU on rule of law
  3. Belgium breaks Ceta deadlock
  4. Left MEPs thwarting Dieselgate probe, say right MEPs
  5. Cars should be allowed to exceed emissions limits, say experts
  6. EU case against Google is bad for developers
  7. Privacy activists mount court challenge to EU-US data pact
  8. Thousands of Nato soldiers go to Baltic states, Romania