Labor-law experts are awaiting a verdict from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg on the test case of a Danish man who weighs 160 kilos, or 352 pounds. He claims he was fired for being overweight. The case, initially tried in a Danish court, was passed on to the ECJ to decide if obesity should be legally considered a disability under European employment law.
The advocate general concluded in his argument that very severe obesity should be considered a disability. While the advocate general’s role is advisory, it impacts the court’s decision, which is binding across E.U. member countries. The case is attracting a lot of attention in Germany.
“Should the court go along with this, it will have consequences here too,” said Cornelia Marquardt, manager of the labor-law practice Norton Rose Fulbright in Munich. “Up to now, German courts have only categorized being abnormally overweight as a handicap if it resulted in subsequent illnesses, like diabetes.”
By the advocate general’s reasoning, anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 40 and over is disabled. Should this be adopted in Germany, then applicants who are refused a job solely because of their BMI could claim damages.
“It is possible that companies will have to offer particularly corpulent employees assistance to lose weight in the future – just like they have to support alcoholics with withdrawal therapy today,” said Ms. Marquardt.