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Leading employment judges call for law banning 'fattism' in workplace

Legislation against 'fattism' would ban the use of abusive terms or refusing to employ people because of their weight

Sadie Levy Gale
Monday 25 April 2016 09:56 BST
Judges say "fattism" isn't covered by existing discrimination laws
Judges say "fattism" isn't covered by existing discrimination laws (Getty Images)

A leading judge has said overweight workers should have the power to tackle “fattist” discrimination in the workplace by suing colleagues who make inappropriate comments about body size.

Philip Rostant, a judge specialising in employment law, warned that larger people are paid less on average than their thinner colleagues. He said such laws would prevent prejudice against those of “non-ideal weight”, who he claims also find it more difficult to get jobs and are at higher risk of being sacked.

In an academic paper published in the Modern Law Review, he wrote of the difficulties overweight employees face in the workplace.

In the paper, co-authored with Tamara Hervey, a professor of law at Sheffield University, they wrote: “People of non-ideal weight (overweight or severely underweight) are subjected to discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere, based on attitudinal assumptions and negative inferences ... such as that they are insufficiently self-motivated to make good employees.”

The academic paper, called "All About that Bass? Is Non‐Ideal Weight Discrimination Unlawful in the UK?", adds: “Being overweight, or even obese, is not in itself a prohibited ground of discrimination in UK law, or in the law of the European Union.

“This situation leaves a gap in the law, which is remediable only by legislative reform.”

Legislation against “fattism” would mean the use of abusive terms or refusing to employ people because of their weight would result in the same kind of penalties as discriminating against ethnic minorities and LGBT people.

The paper draws attention to the Equality Act of 2010, which outlaws discrimination against people because of age, race, gender, religion, sexual orientation and disability. Currently, overweight people are only protected by the act if they can prove they are disabled.

Sixty-four per cent of adults in the UK are classed as being overweight or obese.

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