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Warning for employers after tribunal

Shropshire employees who are abused in the workplace because they’re overweight now have extra protection following a tribunal ruling.

John Mehtam  of Martin-Kaye Solicitors, in Telford, said the court’s decision meant staff could take their employer and/or abuser to a tribunal for humiliating, degrading or violating treatment.

The move comes after a UK employment tribunal became the first to consider obesity as a disability, following a decision by the European Court of Justice.

The tribunal unanimously decided that the employee who brought the case was disabled and backed his harassment claim.

“The court heard that the employee was harassed by colleagues because of his weight and they said they were satisfied he had been harassed for a reason which related to his disability, which was his morbid obesity,” said Mr Mehtam.

“Their decision echoed the European Court of Justice’s ruling in a separate case that if obesity hinders full and effective participation at work, it could count as a disability.”

Mr Mehtam said that after the ECJ ruling, inappropriate comments from colleagues may constitute disability harassment.

“Despite medical reports suggesting that the employee’s health would be improved if he lost weight, the tribunal said it made no difference that his condition was self-inflicted and could have been improved.

“The important thing for the tribunal was the impact of the condition on the worker, and not its cause.”

Mr Mehtam welcomed the court’s decision as he said workers who suffered abuse because they were overweight would now have added protection.

“Previously cases like this would have been heard in the civil courts as a stress at work claim, but this landmark ruling means that employers and staff will need to think more carefully about their conduct in the workplace.

“And employers in particular will need to take such behaviour much more seriously or face the increasingly tough consequences brought about by the actions of their staff.”

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