Tubby or Not Tubby? Fat is the question
At Lincoln Occupational Health, we are often involved in assessing employees’ fitness for work. However, increasingly, we are being in the workplace with issues around obesity.
The European Court of Justice (EJC) has recently given Judgment in the case of a Danish childminder, Mr Kaltof, weighing in excess of 25 stone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 54. The Company dismissed Mr Kaltof by reason of redundancy. Mr Kaltof alleged the real reason was that he was obese and this was the reason he was selected for redundancy. He claimed that amounted to discrimination.
The ECJ rejected obesity of itself being a protected characteristic but accepted that obesity could in certain situations satisfy the statutory test of disability because of conditions that arise as a result of obesity, such as diabetes or reduced mobility.
Therefore, if an overweight employee has a condition linked to his obesity that gives rise to a physical or mental impairment which is likely to have a substantial adverse effect on the individual’s day-to-day activities and which lasts or is expected to last for 12 months or more, that employee may be disabled for the purposes of disability discrimination.
An outcome that was envisaged was that the ECJ would suggest an “objective test”, to determine whether an overweight employee was disabled for example, an employee would only be deemed to be disabled due to obesity if he or she had a BMI over, say, 40. It was with some relief that this was not the outcome as many feared this could give rise to an agenda of encouraging overweight employees not to lose weight.
The real impact of this decision remains to be seen, but it seems clear that there will be cases where claims for disability discrimination are brought by overweight employees who have reduced mobility issues and ill-health problems, both physical and mental that can be attributed to obesity. This will leave employers in a position where such issues arise that they may have to consider what reasonable adjustments they can make to accommodate the employee at work. Some suggestions that have been mooted are whether these should include access to lifts, parking and adapted furniture and equipment.
Obesity presents an enormous societal cost in terms of reduced well-being and there is a huge financial cost resulting from the care and treatment of those with obesity-related diseases. Obesity adversely affects workplace costs by decreasing worker productivity and in some cases the work environment might actually be contributing to the obesity (with the suggestion that obesity can be related to job stress, shift work and long work hours). However, the workplace may also provide great opportunities for addressing the problem.
As a matter of public health, employers must not ignore obesity in the workplace, even if the workplace environment is not directly causal. Occupational Health professionals are well placed to advise on a range of possible interventional approaches – some employers, for example, have adopted programmes to incentivise weight loss, encourage exercise, and promote healthy diets. So far, the short-term results of such interventions are encouraging and adoption of such health promotion programmes should be widely supported.
Lincoln Occupational Health is looking to grow existing partnerships with its clients to advise on, and support, the implementation of workplace programmes to prevent and manage obesity. By establishing health promotion activities we can work with employers and employees to enable individuals to make healthy lifestyle choices in order to improve their overall health.
For further advice regarding delivering an onsite wellness programme, please contact us
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