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Obesity soon to be classed as a disability in Europe

Following a European court judgement last week, employers may soon have to provide overweight staff with priority parking, larger office chairs and lifts to help them up stairs.

Chief legal adviser to the European Court of Justice, Niilo Jaaskinen, said it was ‘unlawful’ to discriminate against a person if their weight affects their work as they should technically be classed as disabled.

According to Niilo ‘extreme, severe and morbid obesity’ prevents staff from ‘participation in professional life’.

The whole ordeal follows on from a case in Denmark in which a Danish childminder who was dismissed by the local council in 2010 after reportedly being unable to tie his own shoelaces, the dane weighed in at 25 stone at the time.

A final judgment will be assessed in the coming months but this case will surely have a lot of people taking sides. It will likely affect anyone classed as severely, or morbidly obese under the Equality Act 2010.

If the judgement is passed, then bosses would not be allowed to treat overweight staff less favourably.

What employers must be careful of is the way that they approach the matter with current employers and not jump to conclusions about the needs of overweight workers.

Currently in the UK, over 64% of adults are classified as overweight or obese. It is also estimated that obesity costs the NHS £5bn every year.

Finally, trends suggest that if the UK keeps moving in the same direction, nearly half of the UK population will be severely overweight by 2050.