Reports of obesity discrimination on the increase

Recent research by the World Obesity Foundation (WOF) reveals that 62% of adults surveyed have experienced discrimination at work on account of their weight.

The report, which was published to coincide with Obesity Awareness Day, is intended to uncover the stigma surrounding obesity, with many people, including employers, still believing that individuals who suffer from obesity are ‘at fault’.

The survey reveals that 81% felt people with obesity are viewed negatively, whilst 31% admitted to feeling judged at work as a result. When you consider that 1 in 4 adults suffer from obesity, these figures demonstrate that this could potentially be one of the most common forms of workplace discrimination in the UK.

To counter this, the report goes on to dispel the common belief that obesity is an individual’s own fault. Instead, it highlights the numerous factors that could contribute to obesity, including pre-existing genetic conditions or medication taken for epilepsy or diabetes.

In 2014, a European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruling set an important precedent by allowing for obesity to be classed as a disability, where it results in physical, mental or psychological impairments.  This means that obesity may potentially be covered by discrimination laws, which should serve as a warning to employers to guard against obesity discrimination in their own organisations.  Employers are advised to review any practices that unfairly disadvantage obese staff and should consider reasonable adjustments, where necessary, in circumstances where obesity results in a disability. They must also do everything they can to prevent instances of bullying or harassment, as workplace banter or jokes relating to an employee’s weight could result in grievance claims.

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