Workplace Rights: Obesity at work

Where do employers stand legally with obese staff?

by Michael Burd and Jamies Davies
Last Updated: 26 May 2015

On current trends, 90% of men and 80% of women are predicted to be overweight or obese by 2050. This could cause major issues for employers.

A European Court ruling recently confirmed that, if the impact of obesity on an individual is sufficiently serious, it can constitute a disability for equality law purposes.

So managers may need to consider their obligation to make 'reasonable adjustments' for employees suffering from the effects of obesity such as mobility restrictions or breathing difficulties.

We predict policies and training on dignity at work will more often proscribe 'fatist' office banter and address appropriate behaviours towards those who are overweight.

Workplace ergonomics will need to adapt and offsite activities will increasingly be made inclusive to employees who may struggle to perform certain physical tasks.

Finally, while many organisations promote staff wellbeing initiatives, it should be remembered that obesity is not necessarily self-inflicted and may result from physical or psychological factors.

Action which could be seen as forcing employees to reduce their weight could potentially amount to harassment or discrimination.

Michael Burd and James Davies, Lewis Silkin LLP solicitors. Email them at or tweet them @Lewissilkin.

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