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Employment Appeal Tribunal makes disability ruling in obesity case

07th May 2013

The claim involved Mr Walker, a 21.5 stone man, who had a number of physical and mental impairments, including knee problems, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, asthma, diabetes, and anxiety and depression. Although the impairments could not be attributed to an identifiable pathological or psychological cause, an occupational health specialist told the court that the claimant was suffering from “functional overlay” augmented by obesity.

The claimant’s case for disability discrimination hinged on whether he could be considered to be disabled. The employment tribunal judge in the first instance ruled that he was not disabled as there was no physical or organic underlying cause for his impairments.

At the appeal hearing the EAT overturned the original ruling stating that under the Equality Act 2010 the judge should have considered (1) whether the claimant had an impairment, and (2) whether the impairment was physical and/or mental.

It was stated that there was no need for the tribunal, or employers for that matter, to focus on what caused the impairment, but instead to focus on what effect the impairment had on the employee.

For employers, and employment law solicitors, this ruling means that while obese employees should not be considered disabled as a matter of course, if an overweight employee has an impairment which affects their ability to carry out day-to-day tasks, the employer should not seek to find a pathological cause of the impairment alone in the process of determining whether the employee can be determined as disabled – if obesity is caused by a mental condition, this can also be grounds for the employee to be considered disabled if the inherent impairments affect their day-to-day lives for more than 12 months.


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