Attitudes towards overweight employees is becoming a weighty issue

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Attitudes towards overweight employees is becoming a weighty issue, says Judge.

A leading judge has hit the headlines after suggesting that overweight employees should have the power to tackle “fattist” discrimination in the workplace.  In the UK almost 2 out of 3 adults are classed as being overweight or obese.  But is further legislation really needed?

Philip Rostant, a judge specialising in employment law, warned of the difficulties overweight employees face in the workplace highlighting that larger people are paid less on average than their thinner colleagues and are often overlooked for promotion to the false assumption that an obese worker may be “lazy”. Extending the Equality Act to cover “fattism” would mean the use of abusive terms or refusing to employ people because of their weight would result in the same kind of penalties as discriminating against ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

As it stands, being overweight, or even obese, is not in itself a prohibited ground of discrimination in the Equality Act of 2010, which outlaws discrimination against people because of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability. Currently, overweight people are only protected by the Act if they can prove they are disabled.

That does not mean that employers don’t have a duty of care to treat overweight employees fairly. If an employee is constantly subject to cruel remarks by colleagues, and the employer fails to take action, a claim can be made should the employee develop depression or anxiety.  Further, passing over someone for promotion or paying an employee less than their due their size could lead to constructive dismissal claims in the right circumstances.

All employers should strive towards building a workplace where all employees feel respected and valued.  After all a happy employee is a productive employee, regardless of what the size of their waistband says.


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