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Getting a Grip on Obesity in the Workplace

Published 09 May 2016

A top employment judge is calling for a change in the law that would allow overweight employees to sue for ‘fattist’ discrimination. Being overweight, or even obese, is not in itself a prohibited ground of discrimination in UK law.

Philip Rostant writing in an academic paper called ‘All About that Bass? Is Non‐Ideal Weight Discrimination Unlawful in the UK?’ says there is a gap in the law which can be corrected by a change in legislation that would allow overweight workers to sue colleagues who make inappropriate comments about their body size.

Currently an employee who has suffered jibes about their weight in the workplace would have to complain using the grievance policy or bullying and harassment policy, if one is in place.

Such complaints should be carefully listened to, investigated and appropriate action taken where necessary.

Employers are now being proactive in tackling obesity in the workplace and a growing number are promoting health initiatives for staff.

The NHS has launched national incentive fund that Trusts and healthcare providers can access if they can show they are investing in staff health and well-being.

Last year the Metropolitan Police force introduced compulsory annual fitness tests for officers

The European Court of Justice has previously ruled that obesity may be a disability if it causes a long-term impairment preventing the employee from doing their job on a par with other workers.

In such circumstances the person would be protected by disability legislation and able to make a claim for disability discrimination.

Employers should take a zero-tolerance approach to any type of discrimination.

All employers have a responsibility to deal with a complaint of unlawful discrimination in a way that finds out if it has occurred and, if it has, to address it.

Having good procedures in place can help to prevent an employee bringing a claim against an employer.

It is in everyone’s interest to put things right in order to avoid an Employment Tribunal claim, which can be costly for all involved.


All About that Bass? Is Non‐Ideal Weight Discrimination Unlawful in the UK?


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