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The F Word


What is the news?

The World Obesity Federation has revealed that one in four adults say they are less likely to hire someone for a job if they are overweight.

What does the news mean?

People who are obese face stigma and discrimination across all aspects of their lives and research shows this extends to the world of employment. The BBC reported last week that the employer of a morbidly obese lady included a clause in her contract that any obesity-related sickness absence would not be paid. It was also reported that there is no medical evidence that people who are overweight take more days off sick than those who are of average or below average weight.

What do we think of the news?

Discrimination is prohibited on the grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex and sexual orientation. With regards to disability, European case law has found that obesity might fall under the definition if it hinders a person’s ‘full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers’. There was also a case in Northern Ireland where a morbidly obese individual was successful in his claim that he had been harassed at work because of derogatory comments relating to his weight, which was found to be a disability. Disability discrimination is only likely to be on the basis of someone’s weight where this results in serious health issues. It is, therefore, quite a new concept but is beginning to be recognised in very specific circumstances.

According to the NHS, ‘obesity is generally caused by eating too much and moving too little’, however in many cases, the causes of obesity go beyond the obvious and can be attributed to, for example, genetics, side effects of other medication or psychological factors. At a time when mental health issues are on the rise, employers have a duty to protect the welfare of their employees both directly and vicariously. Being open-minded as to the reasons why someone may struggle with their weight and trusting that they will work just as hard is a good way for employers to encourage inclusion and encourage positive morale in the workplace.

If you would like to talk through any concerns you may have in relation to discrimination, you can contact Associate, Siobhan Howard-Palmer on T: 0161 358 0537 or E: siobhanhoward-palmer@hrclaw.co.uk.

This contains a general overview of information only. It does not constitute, and should not be relied upon, as legal advice. You should consult a suitably qualified lawyer on any specific legal problem or matter.