Settlement Agreements and Disability.

Is obesity a disability? The question is important because if obesity were to be classified as a disability additional protection would attach to obese employees and employers would have additional legal duties.

The current position in law in the UK is that obesity in itself does not render someone disabled. Therefore, merely because someone is obese, it would not trigger obligations on the employer to treat them as disabled and create a duty to make reasonable adjustments. The Equality Act 2010 prohibits discrimination in employment in respect of the "protected characteristics" of age, disability, gender reassignment, marital or civil partnership status, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief, sex, and sexual orientation.

The Equality Act 2010 defines disability as "a physical or mental impairment, and that impairment has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities".

However, the reality is that those who are clinically obese are more likely to suffer from other ill health issues (for example; diabetes, high blood pressure, hernias and depression). If these health issues are both substantial and long-term, it may well mean that the person concerned falls within the statutory definition of being disabled.

The Advocate General has given an opinion that morbid obesity may amount to a disability. It is possible for morbid obesity to amount to a disability where it hinders a worker's full participation in professional life and prevents them from being on an equal footing with other workers.

A Danish childminder was dismissed in November 2010. He weighed around 25 stone throughout his 15 years of service. This translated to a body mass index (BMI) of 54 and meant that he was morbidly obese according to the World Health Organisation system of classification.

His employer's position was that he was redundant, so did not enter into a settlement agreement, however, the Claimant believed that he had been dismissed because of his obesity which was discussed at the dismissal meeting. He claimed his dismissal was discriminatory.

If you believe you have suffered detrimental treatment as a result of a physical impairment please do not hesitate to get in contact with a member of the settlement agreement team.

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