By Daniel Hunter

Obesity could be considered a disability, the European Court of Justice has ruled in a move which could mean big changes for employers.

The court, which rules over EU members including the UK, said obesity could be considered as a disability if “hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”.

It could force dramatic changes in the way businesses offer support to obese people -there are certain legal requirements regarding support for employers classed as "disabled".

The World Health Organisation (WHO) classes anyone with a BMI over 30 or more than "obese". The WHO's classification is used by the European Court of Justice.

Crowley Woodford, employment partner at Ashurst law firm, described it as a "welcome relief" for employers.

He said: "The ruling confirms that there is no general principle prohibiting employers from discriminating on grounds of obesity.

"Had the ECJ found that obesity is a protected characteristic in itself, it would have opened a can of worms. What about protection for those who are underweight, short or tall or who simply believe their employer thought they didn't look attractive enough? It could become difficult to know where to draw the line in terms of workplace protection for body shape or physical appearance."

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