The European Court of Justice has ruled that being fat "can constitute a disability" under EU equality at work legislation. The judgement was arrived at in a case brought by Karsten Kaltoft, a former childcare worker in Billund.
“Obesity can constitute a ‘disability’ within the meaning of the Employment Equality Directive,” read the ruling from the court. “While no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.”
The law change could lead to employers in EU member states being required to supply obese workers with adjustments like larger seats, special parking spaces and more.
Fewer kids, not more fat, the reason, says council
Kaltoft brought the case after he was fired four years ago from his job with the Billund municipality, he says, because they felt he was too fat. He had been at his job working with kids for 15 years.
Kaltoft is 172 cm tall and weighed about 160 kilos when he was fired. The municipality denied that he was let go because of his girth, and cited a dropping birthrate and less need for childcare helpers as the reason.
The union FOA took Kaltoft’s case against Billund to the court in Kolding, who then asked the EU for a ruling. Municipal association, KL, who defended Billund in court, said that the decision would not have an immediate impact in Denmark, because Danish employees are already protected against arbitrary dismissal, and employers cannot fire the overweight if they can do their jobs.
The case for Velcro
Reports during the case alleged that Kaltoft had to ask other employees to help tie children’s shoelaces. He denied that he was unable to perform his duties.
The EU court did not define what level of Body Mass Index (BMI), the measure used to calculate the degree of obesity, would be required to classify someone as disabled and said that decisions should be made on a case-by-case basis.
Kaltoft had a BMI of 54, which is beyond the high-end range and indicates morbid obesity, when he was dismissed. Lawyers following the case have warned that the lack of specific guidelines will be a problem in years to come.