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Tipping the scales of justice to tackle obesity in the workplace

Published 28 September 2015

A court ruling that a casino can fire its waitresses if they gain more than 7lbs has put the issue of weight in the workplace back in the headlines.

The US court ruled Borgata casino’s personal appearance policy was lawful and non-discriminatory to women.

The venue is famous for its scantily clad ‘Borgata Babes’, whose calendar is always among its best-selling merchandise.

Addressing any concerns in relation to the weight of an employee and its impact on their ability to effectively perform their duties, can be a touchy subject.

UK employers currently have to deal with the ramifications of a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling which concluded that very severe obesity could be classed as a disability in certain circumstances.

This is based on the fact it can cause long term impairment that prevents the employee from performing their duties to the same level as other members of staff.

It follows a case by Danish childminder Karsten Kaltoft, who claims he was fired partly because of his weight.

Employers should be aware that the ruling could protect severely overweight workers from discrimination and force changes in the way those members of staff are dealt with and supported.

Earlier this year a Northern Ireland tribunal found a laboratory worker had been harassed because of his disability – his morbid obesity – and it referred to the ECJ ruling in the Karsten Kaltoft case.

A quarter of men and women in the UK are obese, with a BMI of more than 30. A further 42 per cent of men and 32 per cent of women are classified as overweight.

Employers need to consider a number of factors in relation as to how they deal with overweight employees, which may include:

  • Appropriate health and safety arrangements being put in place.
  • Sickness/absence policy may need to be reviewed.
  • Reasonable adjustments may need to be considered.

Employers can also consider promoting a healthier workforce. In April supermarket chain Tesco encouraged its staff to stay active on the job by dancing and running on the spot in store amid concerns about overweight checkout workers putting off customers.


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