Disability in the workplace - clinically obese
I have been clinically obese all my life; am I able to make my employer make adjustments in the workplace to accommodate me?
In employment law there are rules about what the law counts as a disability, or not. The Discrimination Disability Act (DDA) says that 'disability' means a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term negative effect on your ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities. According to this definition, impairments can include sensory impairments, such as sight and hearing, or mental impairments such as learning disabilities, dyslexia and mental illness. Some severe disfigurements count as a disability.
To have a long-term disability means that the disability:
1. Has lasted for at least 12 months; or
2. Is expected to last for at least 12 months; or
3. Is likely to last for the rest of your life, if you are expected to live for less than 12 months.
The Discrimination Disability Act (DDA) requires employers to make reasonable adjustments to allow disabled people to be in employment. Employers are not required to go to extreme lengths to adjust their workplaces or the work tasks but they must make ‘reasonable’ changes. The key point is the definition of what constitutes ‘reasonableness’. There are few jobs in which being overweight is, in itself, likely to interfere directly with job performance. It might be relevant, for example, if there are size restrictions in the work area such as aisles. Health and safety issues may also be relevant; for example, fire fighters who are too large to be operationally fit to work on the front line. If as an employee your weight adversely affects your performance it should usually be dealt with as lack of capability.
It is therefore advisable that you consult a specialist employment solicitor about how you can proceed with requesting such changes from your employer. Only the employment tribunals can decide what is reasonable; therefore, when you speak with an employment solicitor you should also discuss what reasonable changes you require in your workplace. For example, employers may need to consider changes to provide larger chairs for office work, provide adjustable-height desks to allow for clearance of larger thighs, provide chairs with enhanced weight-bearing capacity and so on. This conflict needs sensitive handling and discussion with the employer in order to avoid any unfair dismissals that may occur as a result of this.