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Fat is not an employment law issue

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All the worrying about an obesity epidemic has spilled over into employment law, according to one law firm.

DWF says it has noticed employers are beginning to query whether it’s acceptable to refuse to hire obese candidates.

The answer – in most cases – is that employers are within their rights to refuse to hire obese candidates. The exception is when the extra weight is caused by a medical problem,

But DWF warns that excess weight is not sufficient grounds for sacking an existing employee unless it is affecting their performance.

Stephen Robinson of DWF says: “With the nation’s waistlines getting bigger, weight is increasingly becoming an issue for employers and some have sought our advice.

“You can choose not to employ an overweight candidate, provided there is no underlying medical reason for it, although you should take the precaution of asking all candidates as part of the application process whether they suffer from a disability and whether they would need support or assistance should they be employed.

“If you fail to ask these questions, there is a risk that in not employing that candidate, you may be inadvertently discriminating against them.

“However it would also be dangerous to dismiss someone because of their weight unless it clearly had a detrimental impact on the business.

“If an employee is underperforming due to excess weight, provided there is no underlying medical reason, you should take them through your capability procedure sensitively, by highlighting how their excess weight has caused a performance issue, its effects on the business and what both employer and employee should do to resolve the issue.

“It may be that you set a timescale for them to lose weight and provide them with the support they need to achieve the goal. However, if once you have exhausted the procedure and there is no option but dismissal you must be clear that the reasons for dismissal relate to their capability to do the job and not simply because you object to their weight.”

Robinson says a more effective long-term solution is for employers to take a lead in encouraging staff to stay fit and healthy. “Consider offering subsidised gym membership and encourage team building sports, offer weight loss and healthy eating advice and include healthy and low-fat foods in vending machines and on the menu in the staff canteen. Installing bike sheds and showers will encourage employees to walk, run or cycle to work.”

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