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Employment Law Updates

Definition of Disability - Obesity and Functional Overlay

When taking into account whether a person is disabled, should the focus be upon the cause of the person's symptoms or upon their effect i.e. is it the disease or is it the effect of the disease. The conclusion of Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd was the effect.

This case related to the difficulties surrounding obesity and how it should be treated for the purpose of disability discrimination. The appellant weighed 137kg (over 21st) and suffered from a wide range of symptoms associated with obesity. The INITIAL employment tribunal concluded that he was not disabled within the legal definition on the basis that the medical evidence revealed no physical or mental cause of the symptoms, other than obesity.

The above was later rejected by the Employment Appeal Tribunal (ETA) where the Honourable Mr  Justice Langstaff stated that in such cases the first question is:

1 ‘does he/she have an impairment’ and

2 whether that impairment is ‘described as physical or mental’.

The cause is only relevant insofar as it remains open to a tribunal, on the evidence, to find that a person does not suffer from a disability if it has no recognised cause. Justice Langstaff refused to accept that obesity is a disability it its own right, but stated that obesity ‘may make it more likely that someone is disabled’.

This case is important to everyone in the industry. Such arguments are one of many that will be used where a member becomes disabled ‘during’ employment with the company.

Presently, companies give such persons a period of time to seek other employment within the company and, failing to find such work, their employment is terminated. This is ‘wrong ‘and ATCU has argued, and won several cases on this issue.

We will update  further on the above disability arguments.