Obesity in the Workplace

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Fitness Instructor Addressing Overweight People At Diet ClubYou may be aware that recently there was a European court decision that any impairment caused by being obese may be a disability in the eyes of European law. If this is the case, then firms have an obligation to make reasonable adjustments.

The ruling has come about because a Danish man employed in childcare claims that he was dismissed because he was obese. This ruling has implications for business owners and managers in the UK.

Interpreting this ruling and determining implications is complex. According to the head of employment law at Taylor Wessing, the ruling means that the Employment Equality Framework Directive will protect people suffering from conditions caused by being overweight. This in enacted in the UK as the Equality Act 2010.

With around a quarter of the UK workforce overweight, the ruling is potentially another headache for UK managers.

So, what to do?

Protection is awarded to those who are obese and, as a result, have issues in completing their work. Risk assessments can be undertaken and where appropriate new furniture (eg. desks and chairs) can be purchased. Duties should also be reviewed to determine if any changes can be made to alleviate difficulties they may face.

If however, after careful consideration, there is no way to accommodate their issues, and the job holder cannot perform their duties satisfactorily, then they may be dismissed. This will be a fair dismissal provided that proper consideration has been made regarding changes and due process has been followed.

It’s also worth considering what action can be taken within the firm to promote healthy living. Many firms provide discounted gym membership. Some have shower facilities at work and encourage staff to take exercise at lunchtime. Some provide fruit throughout day to encourage health snacking.

As well as healthy life-style interventions it is also important to train managers so that they know how to manage their team members who might be overweight. And they should be in position to recognise when an employee is being bullied or harassed due to their size. Or any other reason, for that matter.

If you would like further advice on training managers or what interventions you might consider to avoid problems stemming from obesity, give us a call.

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