The definition of ‘disability’ under the Equality Act 2010 (and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 before it) requires someone with an alleged disability to have a “physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term effect on [their] ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”.

The Employment Appeals Tribunal in the recent case of Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd UKEAT/0097/12, has confirmed that it is the effect of an impairment, rather than the cause of it, that the Tribunal should consider in applying the test for disability and in determining whether or not an individual suffers from a physical or mental impairment.

This case concerned an obese person who suffered from an array of conditions which were compounded by his obesity. These included asthma, dyslexia, knee problems, diabetes, high blood pressure, chronic fatigue syndrome, bowel and stomach problems, chemical sensitivity, hearing loss, anxiety and depression, persistent cough, recurrent fungal infections, carpal tunnel syndrome, eye problems and sacro-iliac joint pains. There was no evidence of an underlying physical or mental cause of these symptoms, and accordingly at first instance, the Employment Tribunal found the Claimant not to be disabled.

However, the EAT substituted a finding that the Claimant was disabled. It found that whilst obesity itself does not automatically amount to a disability, symptoms flowing from or exacerbated by it may potentially amount to a disability, if the other elements of the statutory test are satisfied. This mirrors the established position in relation to alcoholism, whereby alcoholism is excluded from being a disability for the purposes of discrimination law, but symptoms flowing from it (for example liver disease) may be. The EAT also confirmed that whilst the cause of the impairment is not relevant to the fact of whether the individual in fact suffers from a physical or mental impairment, it may be evidentially relevant to the question of whether that impairment is long-term and the extent to which it has a substantial adverse impact.

If you would like any further information about this issue, please contact me by emailing emma.sangeelee@edwincoe.com.

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