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Employment lawyer warns of obesity problems ahead

Posted by: Laurence Simons 22/12/14

An uncertain European Court ruling could bring a trouble for those grappling with employment law. Christmas is coming, the goose is getting fat - and so, it seems are most Britons.

With the season of indulgence set to be followed by new year resolutions pledging abstinence from bad food and excess alcohol, along with what for many will be unrealistic fitness pledges, it may seem that the obesity epidemic is a consequence of modern lifestyles and diet.

However, despite this being something apparently self-inflicted, which most individuals are well capable of doing something about with a bit of discipline and hard work, the European Court of Justice has ruled that obesity could be considered a disability.

Writing for the Aberdeen Press and Journal, head of employment at law firm Burness Paull. Sean Saluja said the ruling - which centred on the case of a Danish childminder sacked for being too fat - did not clarify that obesity was a disability, but said conditions linked to it can be treated this way.

This grey area, he wrote, could keep the lawyers busy - and might place new obligations on companies to accommodate the needs of staff. This could include adjustments to furniture and equipment.

However, it may not go as far as overturning regulations such as safety-based limits on the width of helicopter passengers boarding choppers in places like Aberdeen to fly to North Sea rigs.

He stated: "If an employee in such circumstances were to be classified as being disabled, it is highly unlikely that a tribunal or court would require an employer as part of reasonable adjustments to provide alternative transportation methods."

Even so, Mr Saluja suggested, part of the responsibility placed on employers may even involve helping workers lose weight.

That could range from restricting unhealthy choices in staff canteens or providing access to leisure facilities, either through on-site equipment or gym membership deals.

All this may seem a touch ironic, of course, with one famously rotund delivery man set to put in a full night's work next week in which he will have to squeeze down some extraordinarily narrow - or even nonexistent - chimneys as part of the job description.