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Obesity and disability

23 December 2014

Fag og Arbejde (FOA) v Kommunernes Landsforening (KL) - Case C-354/13

This was a request for a preliminary ruling to the European Court concerning the interpretation of the general principles of EU law and of Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.

In particular it considered whether European Law prohibited discrimination because someone was obese and also whether obesity could be seen as a disability, which would in turn lead to protection from discrimination under European law.

The court ruled as follows:

  1. EU law must be interpreted as not laying down a general principle of non-discrimination on grounds of obesity as such as regards employment and occupation.

  2. Council Directive 2000/78/EC of 27 November 2000 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation must be interpreted as meaning that the obesity of a worker constitutes a ‘disability’ within the meaning of that directive where it entails a limitation resulting in particular from long-term physical, mental or psychological impairments which in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers. It is for the national court to determine whether, in the main proceedings, those conditions are met.

What this means

With regard to point 1, simply being obese does not allow you to request reasonable adjustments in the workplace, or allow you to go to an employment tribunal and claim discrimination, if these adjustments are not considered or made.

With regard to point 2, if your obesity leads you to have physical, mental or psychological impairments, which could affect your work, your employer should make reasonable adjustments and you could make a claim for discrimination at an employment tribunal if adjustments are not considered or made.

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"Such would be the case, in particular, if the obesity of the worker hindered his full and effective participation in professional life on an equal basis with other workers on account of reduced mobility or the onset, in that person, of medical conditions preventing him from carrying out his work or causing discomfort when carrying out his professional activity.”

In arriving at this decision the court emphasised that it is the disability itself, not the origin of a disability, which is relevant to European discrimination law. Questions concerning how much someone has contributed to their disability are also irrelevant.

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"Moreover, it would run counter to the very aim of the directive, which is to implement equal treatment, to define its scope by reference to the origin of the disability (see judgment in HK Danmark, EU:C:2013:222, paragraph 40).

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"The concept of ‘disability’ within the meaning of Directive 2000/78 does not depend on the extent to which the person may or may not have contributed to the onset of his disability.”

More information

Fag og Arbejde (FOA) v Kommunernes Landsforening (KL) judgement

EU press release