EU: Obesity is a disability

The European Court of Justice today ruled that obesity is a disability, a ruling which could mean employers have to treat those obese workers as disabled. It ruled in the case of Karsten Kaltoft, who was fired for his size. His employer said the child care worker was so fat he needed help to tie children’s shoe laces.

Says Daily Mail:

National Obesity Forum spokesman Tam Fry said: ‘This has opened a can of worms for all employers in this country.
‘They will be required to make adjustments to their furniture and doors and whatever is needed for very large people.
‘I believe it will also cause friction in the workplace between obese people and other workers.’

“I had been a childminder for 15 years,” Kaltoft told The Guardian. “Everyone told me I did a good job. I don’t think it was fair [to sack me]. I was already overweight when I got the job. I’m fat. It’s not a lifestyle choice; it’s just the way I am. Most overweight people want to be thinner.”

The case is similar to Ronald Kratz’. He weighed 600 pounds when he lost his job with BAE systems in Houston, according to an employment law blog.

After being instructed to wear a seatbelt while driving the forklift, he asked for a seatbelt extender. He did not receive the extender; instead, he was terminated two weeks later because, according to BAE, he could no longer do his job due to his weight.

As part of the settlement, Kratz received $55,000.In addition, BAE must provide Kratz with six months of outplacement services, and must conduct training for, and issue written guidance to, BAE’s managers and human resources professionals on EEO compliance, disability discrimination law and responsibilities regarding reasonable accommodation to employees and applicants. The company must also post an anti-discrimination notice in multiple locations.

The EEOC’s position that morbid obesity is a “disability” under the ADA may well find support in the ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA). The ADAAA retains the ADA’s basic definition of “disability” as an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such impairment, or being regarded as having such an impairment. However, the ADAAA significantly expands the definition of “substantially limits” and “major life activities,” thereby increasing the likelihood that morbid obesity (or for that matter even “severe” obesity or, perhaps, even “moderate” obesity) constitutes a federally protected “disability.” In addition, under the ADAAA’s revised definition of “regarded as,” an employee no longer must establish that the employer perceived him or her to be substantially limited in a major life activity. The employee need only demonstrate that the employer took a prohibited adverse action based on its belief that the employee had an actual or perceived impairment, without regard to whether that condition was perceived to substantially limit a major life activity.

Related: Police, firefighters, and security guards are the fattest workers in America (Vox).