Obesity can constitute a disability in certain circumstances, the EU’s highest court has ruled.
The European Court of Justice was asked to consider the case of a male childminder in Denmark who says he was sacked for being too fat.
The court said that if obesity could hinder “full and effective participation” at work then it could count as a disability.
The ruling is binding across the EU.
If employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situation worse.”
Judges said that obesity in itself was not a disability – but if a person had a long term impairment because of their obesity, then they would be protected by disability legislation.
The case centres around childminder Karsten Kaltoft who weighs about 160kg (25 stones).
He brought a discrimination case against his employers of 15 years, Billund local authority, after he was sacked four years ago.
The authority said a fall in the number of children meant Mr Kaltoft was no longer required.
But Mr Kaltoft said he was dismissed because he was overweight.
Earlier this year he told the BBC that reports he was so fat he was unable to bend down to tie children’s shoelaces were untrue.
Describing his work with children, he said: “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that.
“I don’t see myself as disabled. It’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”
The Danish courts asked the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to clarify whether obesity was a disability.
The ECJ ruled that if the obesity of the worker “hinders the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”, then obesity can fall within the concept of ‘disability’.
Rulings from the European Court of Justice are binding for all EU member nations.
The courts in Denmark will now have to assess Mr Kaltoft’s weight to see if his case can be classed as a disability.
Jane Deville Almond, the chairwoman of the British Obesity Society, said obesity should not be classed as a disability.
She told the BBC: “I think the downside would be that if employers suddenly have to start ensuring that they’ve got wider seats, larger tables, more parking spaces for people who are obese, I think then we’re just making the situation worse.