- The Washington Times - Saturday, December 20, 2014

Europe’s highest court ruled obesity “can constitute a disability” under the European Union’s equality at work legislation, meaning that European employers must treat overweight workers as “disabled.”

Under the Employment Equality Directive, bosses must provide obese employees with larger seats, special parking spaces and other facilities to accommodate their “disability,” the Telegraph reported Thursday.

“While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers,” the European Court of Justice ruled, the Telegraph reported.

The court also said that the cause of someone’s obesity is irrelevant, even if someone’s excessive weight is brought on by gross overeating.

“The directive has the object of implementing equal treatment and aims in particular to enable a person with a disability to have access to or participate in employment. In addition, it would run counter to the aim of the directive if its application was dependent on the origin of the disability,” the court ruled.

The EU did not define what level of Body Mass Index was required to consider an employee disabled by obesity.

The ruling comes after a law suit brought by Karstel Kaltoft, a Danish nanny, who claimed he was laid off by his employer because he was obese.

The Danish local authority that Mr. Kaltoft worked for reportedly fired him on allegations that the man was so overweight he needed help from a colleague to tie children’s shoelaces.

Mr. Kaltoft, who now works as a truck driver, saw the court’s decision as a victory over his former employer.

“It is good that we now recognize that obesity can be a handicap, and I hope that municipality realize that is was not okay to fire me,” he said, the Telegraph reported.

“I never saw it as a requirement that I needed to lose weight and never had a feeling that it could cost me the job,” Mr. Kaltoft said.

The court’s ruling in Mr. Kaltoft’s case could hurt European employers who now have to bear the costs to make adjustments for obese staff.

“This test could mean that businesses face claims from obese staff for failing to make reasonable adjustments to their role if the job entails tasks where they would be on an unequal footing with other staff — tasks that require full mobility such as stacking shelves in a supermarket for example,” said Julian Hemming, employment partner at law firm Osborne Clarke, the Telegraph reported.

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