In the last 12 months it has become clear that disability discrimination extends to severely obese employees.  One of the implications of that is that an employer can become liable for acts of harassment by members of staff towards such an employee.  In the last week there has been a ruling in Northern Ireland where an employee who was obese was subjected to humiliating, degrading and violating treatment by colleagues at Randox Laboratories.

An employer can become vicariously liable for such acts of harassment where it has not taken all reasonable steps to prevent this kind of harassment from occurring.  This will mean, for example:

  • Making it clear in your Bullying & Harassment Policies or Dignity At Work Policy that, for example, making jokes about somebody’s size could be offensive to them and give them grounds for complaint;
  • Including in Diversity & Inclusion training sessions this topic for discussion as part of raising awareness amongst staff that such comments could be offensive and cause complaint;
  • Training for managers so that they realise this area is a potential issue and are able to step in and discourage unwanted behaviours by staff where necessary; and
  • Where anyone does raise a complaint, taking the issue seriously and, for example, disciplining protagonists.