According to a poll of employers undertaken by Penningtons Manches, 98% of respondents do not agree that obese workers should be protected by disability law. The vote follows a ‘head to head’ article by employment partners, Tom Walker and Hilary Aldred, who set out the arguments for and against using the Equality Act to protect obese and overweight employees.
The results of the poll revealed that employers are firmly in the ‘no’ camp and that there is likely to be little support for the European Court of Justice Advocate General’s recent ruling that 'severe' obesity may fall under the Equality Act as a disability. Nine out of ten (89%) respondents do not make any adjustments for obese or overweight staff and 79% would not have to adjust their ordinary working practices if obese or very overweight members of staff were granted protected status under the Equality Act.
Tom Walker set out the argument that “people suffering from obesity should enjoy a limited protection under that act, namely from harassment. The Equality Act is designed to ensure a level playing field both in the workplace and in wider society for people who might otherwise be held back owing to prejudice over their personal characteristics.”
But Hilary Aldred’s case that obesity should not be classed as a disability in and of itself and that the law should not get involved with protecting the 64% of adults who are either obese or overweight carried the day. She said: “If the law protects the overweight under the Equality Act, then such individuals may further abdicate their own individual responsibility for the choices they make - choices which are frequently denied to those who are genuinely disabled.”