Following a decision of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) on 18 December 2014, obesity has now been recognised, in certain circumstances, to be a “handicap” for the purposes of the European Directive 2000/78 establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation.
The ECJ found that obesity indeed could be considered to be a handicap if it “entails a limitation which results in particular from a physical, mental or psychological impairments that in interaction with various barriers may hinder the full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers, and the limitation is a long-term one”.
The ECJ gave as examples reduced mobility, or the onset of medical conditions preventing an employee from carrying out his work or causing discomfort when carrying out his professional activity.
The ECJ expressly also stated that it is irrelevant if the employee has contributed to the onset of the disability.
Accordingly, in such circumstances, an employee dismissed on the grounds of her or her obesity may, in certain circumstances, be held to have been unlawfully dismissed on the basis of a discriminatory ground, rendering the dismissal null and void, which will result in the reintegration of the employee (and the payment of back pay since the dismissal date up to reintegration).
Employers will of course be prohibited from discriminating on the grounds of qualifying cases of obesity during the term of the employment (e.g. in terms of decisions on remuneration, promotion etc.).
This decision is immediately directly binding on employers in France.
As a reminder, other discriminatory grounds for dismissals in France include : racial origin, sex, morals, sexual orientation or identity, age, family situation, pregnancy or maternity, genetic characteristics, belonging (or appearing to belong) to an ethnic group, nation or race, political opinions, trade union activities, religious convictions, physical appearance, family name, or the state of health or a handicap. Place of residence was included recently as a discriminatory ground under French law, under the law of 21 February 2014.