Bosses across Europe may soon be legally banned from discriminating against obese employees.
Furthermore, British companies may soon have to treat their obese workers as disabled, and accommodate their needs, which could include providing them with larger seats and with parking spaces closer to the office.
At the center of the case is child-minder Karsten Kaltoft, an obese man who was fired from his job in Denmark for being deemed too large to adequately perform his duties.
Kaltoft had worked for Billund local authority for 15 years. As the only explanation offered for dismissing Kaltoft, the authority said that there was a decline in the number of children.
The case is to be heard by the European Court of Justice. Billund claims that Kaltoft, who weighs 350 pounds, was so fat that he needed a colleague’s help to tie children’s shoelaces.
Kaltoft has said that he doesn’t see himself as disabled, and has noted that of his work with children, “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that.”
“We hope the outcome is that it’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly,” he added.
The Luxembourg court will have to decide if Kaltoft’s employer was guilty of discrimination by dismissing him.
Kaltoft noted that Billund had paid for him to go to a gym for three months, where he “tried regular exercise” and had done some “weight training.”
Now, Kaltoft’s lawyers aim to redefine obesity as a disability, and to enact a widespread change in the way bosses deal with their staff.
If they succeed, employers may have to start accommodating fat workers so that they do not present a disadvantage to their thinner coworkers.
Judges will have to consider whether such changes would apply only to the public labor sector, or across the labor market as a whole.
The court’s ruling will be relevant for all member states across the EU.
However, such a ruling would have particular significance for employers in Britain. As Audrey Williams of Eversheds law firm said, Britain “has the highest percentages of obesity in Europe.”
In fact, as Daily Mail Online reports, rates of obesity in Britain have doubled in the past three decades: 64 percent of adults are now overweight.
This year, the National Obesity Forum estimated that half the British population would be obese by 2050.