If you are an employer, it can sometimes be a little tricky to navigate the issue of disability in the workplace. You could be working with an employee and find that you don’t understand their disability, or even recognise it. Or you could have an employee who has some problems in the workplace but you aren’t sure whether or not you are supposed to view these problems as part of the disability. One of the most problematic areas is obesity. Employers, in the main, are unsure as to whether or not obesity is a disability.

One way to ascertain whether or not the person’s weight problems form part of a disability is to look at definitions of disability. The Equality Act of 2010 outlined the parameters of disability and it is valuable for employers. The act states that people are classed as having a disability if they have physical or mental impairments that prevent or hinder them when they are carrying out their day-to-day tasks. These impairments should hinder the sufferers if they are to be classed as being disabled. If this is the case, how does obesity fit into the equation?

No laughing matter

First of all, it’s important to remember that obesity is no laughing matter. Obesity can cause considerable discomfort and suffering for the person, with a number of conditions arising from obesity that affect a person’s quality-of-life. For example, anyone who is seriously obese can have significant difficulty as regards mobility. One key area of this is the impact upon a sufferer’s knees. The pain that the person undergoes can be incredibly pronounced in the knee area. If they have to be even mildly mobile as part of their job, this will immediately impact upon their ability to carry out their day-to-day tasks and activities.

Fatigue is also a problem when it comes to obesity. The sufferer may be so tired that they are unable to even get to work. When at work, the obesity may reduce their ability to complete even simple tasks. This fatigue can be incredibly damaging, and can reduce the person’s overall effectiveness at work considerably.

So being obese can be a problem at work. But obesity does not in itself fall under disability. The complications arise when by-products of obesity, such as other conditions, present in the workplace. Employers need to consider whether the impairments that have arisen from obesity are affecting the person’s ability to work. Employers also have to be aware of the length of the impairments that have arisen from the obesity. If these impairments have lasted longer than 12 months, disability legislation will fall into place.

As long as employers communicate with the employee, and are able to ascertain whether or not these impairments have arisen from obesity and are causing considerable problems, there should be no issue. The problems arise when employers don’t discuss any of the complications that arise from obesity. Employers are within their rights to do so, as long as it is done with sensitivity.

Chris Catt

The Enabled Entrepreneur

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