Obesity is a disability. That’s the ruling out of the European Court of Justice today. With obesity rates skyrocketing globally, the ruling is set to have profound impacts across the 28-nation bloc on how employers deal with severely overweight (morbidly obese) employees.

The EU’s court ruling was in the case of Danish childcare worker, Karsten Kaltoft, who weighed 350 pounds and accused her employer of firing her for being ‘fat.’ The key takeaway from the ruling is if obesity hinders a “full and effective participation in professional life,” it would be a disability.

According to lawyers for Kaltoft, the ruling means employers will have an obligation to help staff members who are obese, due to laws prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability.

This opens up a variety of possible outcomes. Everything from modified desks to closer parking spots could be in the cards. In certain EU countries with tough anti-discrimination laws, the decision could make it extremely difficult to fire or lay off obese staff.

For now, the European Court of Justice is sending the case back to Danish courts to determine if Kaltoft’s obesity met the threshold of disability. Her employer maintains she was laid off due to a decline in the number of children served.

Appeals are expected on the ruling, mainly over the ambiguous nature of the ruling. The ruling lacked any clear guidelines, and is depending on a lower court to set the standard. That will inevitably be challenged in other nations, forcing the EU Court of Justice to rule again.

What do you think? With rising obesity rates, is it time to treat it as a recognized disability?


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