A recent report by the World Obesity Foundation (WOF) revealed that 62% of adults surveyed have experienced discrimination at work on account of their weight.
The report, which was released to coincide with Obesity Awareness Day, is part of ongoing efforts to reduce the stigma surrounding obesity, with many people, including employers, still believing that individuals who suffer from obesity are ‘at fault’.
The study goes on to reveal that 81% of adults felt people with obesity are viewed negatively because of their weight, whilst 31% admitted to feeling judged at work as a result. When you combine these results with the fact that 1 in 4 adults suffer from obesity, it shows that obesity discrimination has the potential to be one of the most common forms of discrimination in the UK.
In light of this, campaigners and medical professionals have gone to significant lengths to dispel the myth that obesity is someone’s fault. Instead, these commentators have sought to highlight the numerous factors that could contribute to obesity, including pre-existing genetic conditions or medication taken as a result of epilepsy or diabetes.
In 2014, a ruling from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) set a precedent which allows workers to claim that their obesity is a disability and therefore be covered by discrimination laws. The case in question, Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund, revealed that obesity can itself be considered a disability and therefore may be covered by laws on disability discrimination when it results in physical, mental or psychological impairments that affects participation at work.
This should act as a warning for employers and line managers who should guard against obesity discrimination in their own organisation by reviewing any practices that unfairly disadvantage obese staff and make reasonable adjustments where necessary, when the obesity results in a disability. Furthermore, organisations should work to prevent instances of bullying or harassment, paying particular attention to workplace banter as well-intentioned jokes relating to an employee’s weight can easily result in grievance claims.