Clinical obesity can result in discrimination

Clinical obesity affects nearly a third of adults and isn’t classed as a disability per se, but businesses can still be liable for discrimination claims if it isn’t properly handled.

Around 30% of adults are considered to be clinically obese. The effects of the condition are complex and can give rise to psychological problems as well as physical ailments and diseases. Studies have shown that obese people are around 25% more likely to experience a mood disorder like depression. Similarly, there are correlations with obesity and other conditions such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, cancer and strokes. Obesity can have an impact on businesses if an employee requires long or repeated periods away from work due to associated illness. Absenteeism can be costly for employers to manage, both in terms of having a reduced workforce and time spent managing the employee through an absence policy.


With obesity, the effects can include tiredness, low mood, breathing difficulties and joint pain. It is easy to see how symptoms such as these may have a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an employee’s daily activities and hinder their full and effective participation in professional life. If these adverse effects are established, then an affected individual might be considered disabled.

If an obese employee does come within the definition, and an employer has knowledge of the condition, then they might be obliged to make reasonable adjustments. Employers should ideally consult with the individual, as well as occupational health to determine what those adjustments may be. Employers should also be mindful that actions or things said which treat an obese employee less favourably than other employees may give rise to a disability discrimination claim.


An employer is generally liable for the unlawful conduct of its employees towards others at work. If there is workplace bullying of an obese employee, the affected employee may have claims for harassment under the Equality Act. 121 HR Solutions can assist with training in the subject of discrimination and can be contacted at

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