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Warning issued in obesity legal bid challenge

A LANDMARK legal bid to have obese people officially classed as disabled could have widespread and expensive consequences for businesses, a leading Scottish law firm has warned.

The Advocate General - the EU's most senior legal advisor - has ruled that being overweight qualifies as a disability following the sacking of Karsten Kaltoft, a 25-stone child-minder from Denmark.

His opinion still requires the final backing of the European Court but, if ratified, will usher in binding changes which will protect clinically obese people from workplace discrimination in the same way as women and ethnic minorities.

Lawyers at Aberdeen-based Aberdein Considine say it will force employers to find ways of accommodating overweight workers so they are not at a disadvantage to slimmer colleagues. It could also offer crucial protection to offshore workers set to fall foul of new helicopter safety legislation that will limit the size of people travelling to oil and gas platforms.

Neil Fraser, employment law partner at the firm, said: "It is easy to see that with obesity on the increase, the cost to the state and private enterprise of 'fat rights' may be too much for the UK Government to bear."

Under current laws, if you have an impairment - physical or mental - which has a substantial and long term adverse effect on your ability to carry out day to day tasks, then you are disabled.

Mr Fraser added: "A common reaction is 'being fat is a self-inflicted choice, so why the special treatment?'" The Advocate General's response is to say it is unfair to look at the cause of the disability, otherwise people seriously injured in other reckless conduct such as rugby playing, skiing, or dangerous driving would also fail to qualify as disabled."

Some oil companies have reportedly told offshore workers measuring more than 37 inches around the waist to slim down ahead of safety restrictions due to come into force in April next year which stipulate passengers must be able to fit through emergency push-out windows in order to fly.

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