Is obesity a disability?.

Approximately 20% of the population of the UK is now officially “obese”. This means that obesity, which can result in severe health consequences, will increasingly become an issue for employers.

In the recent case of Walker v SITA Information Network Computing Ltd [2013] the Tribunal had to consider whether Mr Walker was disabled within the meaning of the disability discrimination legislation. Mr Walker weighed over 21 stone and he suffered from a range of conditions associated with his obesity such as knee problems, high blood pressure and chronic fatigue syndrome. The Tribunal decided he wasn’t disabled because the medical evidence did not reveal any physical or mental cause for the symptoms, other than obesity. Mr Walker appealed to the EAT.

The EAT overturned the Tribunal’s decision and confirmed the approach that should be followed. Tribunals should consider:

  1. Whether the employee has an impairment and, if so,
  2. Whether it is physical or mental.

The EAT stressed that a Tribunal should not overlook the effects of an impairment because they cannot identify a precise cause.

What are the implications of this decision for employers?

Obesity will not always amount to an impairment and will depend on the medical evidence relating to each individual. However, this case confirms that the focus should be on whether the employee suffers from a physical or mental impairment and not the cause. The EAT intimated that if an employee is obese, it is more likely that a Tribunal would conclude that they have an impairment and will be considered to be disabled and therefore protected by disability discrimination law.

Pensions….

Employers struggling with the complexity of the auto-enrolment provisions will welcome the DWP’s proposals to simplify the process. The DWP has published a consultation paper on its plans to improve automatic enrolling and intends to lay regulations before Parliament as soon as the consultation period ends on 7 May 2013. The changes will come into force by April 2014.

Whistleblowing

Whistleblowing has received a lot of media attention recently and continues to be a hot issue. The Whistleblowing Commission has started a public consultation on whistleblowing in the workplace. Proposals include making whistleblowing policies mandatory, exempting whistleblowers from tribunal fees (due to come into force Summer 2013) and extending the level of protection for workers. Consultation closes on 21 June 2013

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