haw-week-badgeEmployers have a prejudice attitude towards hiring obese workers but many are not clear on discrimination laws surrounding obesity and disability a new study by employment law specialist, Crossland Employment Solicitors reveals.

“Obese workers are unable to play a full role in the business,” “They wouldn’t be able to do the job required,” and “They’re lazy” are a sample of comments gathered from the study that looks at attitudes towards obese workers.

The survey, based on 1,000 employers, found that almost half (45 percent) of British employers are less likely to hire a prospective employee at interview stage if they are obese. The findings follow the recent European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling that obesity may be a disability if it causes long term impairment that would prevent an employee from completing their work to the same level as their colleagues.

Due to this ruling, employers will now have to find ways to accommodate obese workers who fall within this definition of ‘disability’; a possibility which is already affecting UK employers’ recruitment decisions.

61 percent of employers worry about the potential costs to the business to accommodate the side effects of overweight staff. 63 percent also reported a fear of being taken to court on the grounds of discrimination if the disability needs of the obese worker are not met. While 26 percent are less inclined to hire obese people due to lack of awareness of the laws around employing obese workers.

Beverley Sunderland, managing director, Crossland Employments Solicitors says:

“Our research shows just how less inclined employers are to recruit obese applicants following the case of Mr Kaltoft, the overweight childminder in Denmark and the ECJ ruling.

“It also demonstrates that organisations do need to be more careful at every stage of recruitment and retention of employees, as discrimination law warns us against making ‘stereotypical assumptions’ and doing so can lead to grievances and possible complaints of constructive dismissal.  This applies to both existing employees, or people applying for a job.”

This lack of understanding among employers could land them in further trouble. 51 percent were unaware that if an obese person tells an employer of their long-term conditions in an interview the applicant could put forth a claim for disability discrimination if they are feel they did not get the job because of their obesity.

There also appeared to be a regional variation in figures, with the lowest number of employers in Scotland (27 percent) and the East Midlands (29 percent) saying they would be less inclined to employ an applicant who is obese.

This divide reflects national obesity figures, with the highest classification of obesity in adults being in Scotland with 27.1 percent and a high occurrence in Northern England and the Midlands. London and the South of England has the lowest obesity rates with 9.2 percent and 9.7 percent respectively.

With one in four adults considered obese and over 12,000 hospital appointments a year for obesity related conditions, employers should take into account the new government initiative, Fit for Work, with regards to future discrimination issues. The programme will be available nationwide this year and is designed to support people back into work who have suffered health conditions which includes obesity.

Sunderland adds:

“Employers should change their sick policies to ensure that all employees will comply with the Fit for Work Scheme.

“The area of disability discrimination is a complicated one. Even though an Occupational Therapist or Trained Nurse undertaking any future Fit for Work plans may say that an employee is not disabled, it will always be a matter of fact for a Tribunal to decide.  With this roll-out now underway, organisations should seek legal advice to ensure that they have all policies and documentation fully in place.”


Title image credit: Tony Alter