Is Obesity a Disability?

That's the question currently being asked Europe's highest court in a lawsuit over whether employees can legally discriminate against obese employees. From Reason:

The case comes to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) from Denmark, where 350-pound child caretaker Karsten Kaltoft says he was fired from his position for being too fat. Kaltoft's employer, Billund Kommune, said his dismissal had nothing to do with his weight and was the result of an overall decrease in childcare enrollments.

But the case could reverberate far beyond the particular fates of Kaltoft and Billund. If the ECJ decides to label obesity a disability, it would be be binding throughout the European Union.

"If obesity is classified as a disability, the effect for employers could be profound," said Audrey Williams, a partner at the London law firm Eversheds. "Obesity, however it will come to be defined, would need to be approached just like any other physical or mental impairment." In addition to affecting discrimination cases, the designation could change how employers are obligated to accommodate obese employees.

In the E.U., a disability is currently defined as a "physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on (the) ability to carry out normal day to day activities." Last year, the E.U.'s Employment Appeals Tribunal ruled that a man's numerous medical problems qualified him as disabled, despite the fact that there was no identifiable cause for them other than obesity.

With obesity becoming such a hot topic in the United States, with states banning trans fats and large sodas, expect this topic to come up in the United States soon. I talked about how the United States government contributes to the obesity epidemic in my review of the movie Fed Up.

Regardless of whether you think obesity is a disability, this is just another example of the government getting in between employers and employees.

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