Obesity could be considered a disability, finds European Court

Ruling comes after case of Danish childminder who lost job because he was too fat

People who are obese could also be considered disabled, the European Court of Justice has ruled.

The judgment comes after the landmark case of a Danish childminder who was believed to be so fat he was unable to tie his own shoelaces, and was sacked by his employers four years ago.

The court, whose laws are binding throughout EU members states such as the UK, said obesity could be considered a disability if it “hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”.

The ruling could force widespread changes across Europe in the way employers deal with obese staff and what support they might be legally required to offer.

According to the World Health Organisation, whose definition was relied upon in court, a person is obese if their body mass index (BMI) is over 30. It is calculated by taking a person's weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of his or her height in metres.

The ruling has already raised serious concerns about the immediate and long-term impacts on employers, who may now need to take extra steps to cater to the needs of obese staff. This could include wider car parking spaces and changes to seats, desks and fire escapes.

The case was brought by Karsten Kaltoft, who had been a childminder for 15 years when he was made redundant by the Municipality of Billund local authority.He is believed to have weighed more than 25stone (159kg) at the time.

The council said it was making redundancies based on a decrease in the number of children who required the service, and did not disclose whether Mr Kaltoft’s size played any part in its decision to let him go.

Reports suggested the childminder, who was obese throughout his employment , needed help tying his shoe laces and struggled with physical tasks.

He told the BBC earlier this year: “I can sit on the floor and play with them, I have no problems like that.

“I don’t see myself as disabled. It’s not OK just to fire a person because they’re fat, if they’re doing their job properly.”