As we are regularly reminded by the newspapers and society, obesity is a rising problem in the UK. The European Court of Justice is reviewing a test case which may affect how employers treat obesity. This is following an overweight child-minder from Denmark who was dismissed ‘for being too fat’ and ‘unable to bend down to tie the children’s shoe laces’ (http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-27809242). This decision could lead to obesity being classed as a disability, and if so this would be legally binding across the EU.
The Equality Act 2010 does not take obesity into consideration, but if this changes it could be huge in its effect on policies, meaning it would not be just shoe laces that could trip employers up!
Things to consider
So, should there be a change in legislation, here are a few things to consider whist having a light breakfast/lunch:
- Can you encourage a healthy working environment?
- Could you offer employees an incentive – reduced rates at a gym, introduction of a cycle to work scheme (enabling employees to save on the purchase of a bike)?
- You must treat all absences fairly and consistently; don’t treat any employees less favourably because of their weight
- Consider making adjustments so that overweight people are not disadvantaged at work
- Watch for indications of harassment and be prepared to address attitudes towards overweight people where these attitudes might be adverse
If this goes through the ECJ and the outcome is that obesity is a disability, reasonable adjustments may have to be made, which could include reserved car parking and adjusted office furniture. So, to ensure individuals are treated fairly, you will need to make reasonable adjustments and consider advice from a GP or Occupational Health advisor. The risks could be great if handled incorrectly, but if handled well you could be gaining engagement from a sector of the workforce that has been poorly treated in the past.
Anita Manfredi of Employer Solutions – QCS HR Expert Contributor