People who are obese could also be considered disabled, the European Court of Justice has ruled.
The judgment comes after the landmark case of a Danish childminder who was believed to be so fat he was unable to tie his own shoelaces, and was sacked by his employers four years ago.
The court, whose laws are binding throughout EU member states such as the UK, said obesity could be considered a disability if it “hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers”.
The ruling could force widespread changes across Europe in the way employers deal with obese staff and what support they might be legally required to offer.
According to the World Health Organisation, whose definition was relied upon in court, a person is obese if their body mass index (BMI) is over 30. It is calculated by taking a person’s weight in kilograms and dividing it by the square of his or her height in metres.
The ruling has already raised serious concerns about the immediate and long-term impacts on employers in the UK, who may now need to take extra steps to cater to the needs of obese staff.