Employment law specialists, Law At Work (LAW), are warning of the implications for businesses after a landmark EU court ruling stating that the effects of obesity could be classed as a disability in the workplace.

The European Court of Justice ruled that if obesity prevents “full and effective participation” in the workplace, it can be classed as a disability. This change means that employers may have to adjust their policies and working environments to accommodate, such as providing wider seats or parking spaces closer to the main business entrance.

The ruling set out that the cause of the obesity is irrelevant in terms of a person’s legal rights and the level of Body Mass Index that would be required to class an employee as obese was not set and that decisions should be made on a case by case basis.

Employment law and HR training manager at LAW, Lorna Gemmell, explains that employers need to take this change seriously: “Although obesity has not been officially classed as a disability, it is the employer’s responsibility to make the appropriate adjustments in the workplace for an obese employee.

“This new ruling is likely to lead to difficult conversations for employers about their staff’s body weight and while the levels of obesity remain the same the issue does not look like it will go away any time soon”.

This could be a significant issue for businesses in Scotland where almost two thirds of adults are overweight, with 27.1 percent classed as being obese. With obesity costing Scotland up to £4.6bn a year, the government launched a strategy in 2010 to tackle Scotland’s “obesity time bomb” – yet the statistics continue to rise year on year.

The Scottish Parliament Information Centre (SPICe) report has said that the total annual economic cost could be between £0.9bn and £4.6bn to the Scottish economy. With this new ruling in place, employers will have to consider what changes they will have to make to their business to accommodate this growing trend in the workforce.

Obesity and its implications for businesses will be discussed, along with religion in the workplace, social media pitfalls and dismissal procedures as part of LAW’s upcoming employment law masterclass in Stirling on Wednesday 25 February.

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