HR · 17 January 2019

Can employers tell their employees to lose weight?

employee
Placing a requirement on staff to lose weight may only be advisable in specific circumstances
Employers need to evaluate if an individual’s weight impacts their ability to carry out day to day tasks associated with their job, writes Kate Palmer, associate director of advice at?Peninsula.

A recent news story has revealed that cabin crew members working for Pakistan International Airlines were told they needed to lose weight or face repercussions from their employer. This story raises the question of whether an employer can place a requirement on staff to maintain a certain weight or level of physical fitness.

Weight can be a sensitive issue in the workplace and employers should be careful when approaching this topic due to the risk of discrimination.

Although not specifically a protected characteristic in itself, a 2014 ruling by the European Court of Justice, in the case of Kaltoft v Municipality of Billund, found that obesity could qualify as a disability where it limits a person’s full and effective participation in professional life. This means that an individual recognised as obese would be protected under the Equality Act from any mistreatment at work.


 
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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Kate Palmer CIPD is the head of advisory at law firm Peninsula and is a member of its senior leadership team. She joined in 2009 having held a senior HR manager's role in another large company. With a specialist background in facilities management in the NHS, Kate offers a wealth of employment law experience. She's an expert negotiator - one notable case was with the NHS's trade unions over terms and conditions in the Agenda for Change pay system.

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