Does your weight stop you getting a job?

Research shows overweight candidates are less likely to be hired

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Being fat makes you less likely to get a job, research from a London solicitor has found.

A survey carried out by Thomas Mansfield found that many HR and recruitment professionals believe obesity shows a poor work ethic, and are less likely to hire overweight candidates as a result.

When asked to choose between two potential candidates with identical qualities apart from their size, more than half said they'd hire the slimmer candidate. A third said they'd find it hard to be impartial.

"The findings of the study reveal the problem of bias faced by obese people during the recruitment and selection process which potentially means that the most suitably qualified candidate does not get chosen," says senior partner at Thomas Mansfield Neill Thomas.

"This highlights that people continue to hold stereotypical assumptions that obese people are responsible for their own weight and any problems they suffer are self-inflicted – whereas it might be the case that there is an underlying medical condition."

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The law firm carried out the survey in light of a case currently under consideration by the European Court of Justice (ECJ). Danish childminder, Karsten Kaltoft was dismissed by the local authority when it decided that his size - he weighed 25 stone at the time - meant that he couldn't perform his duties properly. He needed help from a colleague to tie up children's shoelaces, for example.

However, Kaltoft is arguing that his obesity should have been treated as a disability, making his dismissal unlawful.

As the law firm points out, 64% of adults in the UK are now classed as overweight or obese, making the decision particularly relevant here. If the ECJ rules that obesity is a disability, employers will have to make "reasonable adjustments" for obese employees and will not be able to discriminate against them when hiring.

Currently, while it's illegal to discriminate against someone with a "protected characteristic" such as disability, obesity isn't included. "

Disability has a broad meaning. It is defined as a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on the ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities," explains the government guidance. This definition, though, could easily include being severely overweight.

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Last month, advocate general Niilo Jääskinen issued an opinion that obesity can be defined as a disability for the purposes of EU law if it is "severe" and has "reached such a degree that it plainly hinders participation in professional life".

Employers may soon have to start making adjustments such as giving obese people special seating arrangements, or even parking spaces closer to the front door.

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