Individuals who are extremely obese may be subject to the benefits and protections that apply to the wider spectrum of disabled individuals if the European Union’s top court upholds a recent decision that obesity meets the legal definition of “disability.”
The question over whether an obese individual is covered by the same job discrimination protections extended to other individuals affected by a physical disability was sparked by the firing of Karsten Kaltoft, a Danish child care worker who reportedly weighted 352 pounds at the time of his dismissal, according to a report by Reuters.
In a case brought before the Court of Justice of the European Union, Niilo Jaaskinen, advocate general, concluded that extreme obesity is, in fact, a disability. This includes individuals who have a body mass index (BMI) greater than 40. Kaltoft’s BMI was 54 at the time of his employment.
Jaaskinen found that discrimination based on obesity is not prohibited according to European Union law, though that same law protects agains bias on the grounds of disability. However, Jaaskinen concluded that a BMI greater than 40 should be considered a disability. “If obesity has reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life, then this can be a disability,” Jaaskinen says.
According to Reuters, lawyers who commented on the case noted an agreement by the court with the advocate general’s opinion would have significant repercussions on employers as they could be required to make special adjustments for morbidly obese employees.