One of the most important emerging risks facing businesses today is increasing obesity in the workplace. Shockingly, at least one in four adults in the UK are obese, the highest level in Western Europe. The NHS says more than half the population could be obese by 2050.
Obesity costs the UK nearly £47bn a year and it puts a massive strain on the NHS, which spends £5bn a year on illnesses linked to obesity, such as diabetes.
Obesity and its consequences are rarely out of the headlines. This year alone, the government has unveiled a so-called ‘sugar tax’ on soft drinks in the 2016 budget, vocally supported by Jamie Oliver. In April, The Telegraph reported that leading judge Philip Rostant had called for discrimination against overweight employees to be banned to “bring the issue into line with other equality issues”.
In late 2014, an EU ruling declared that obesity could be considered a disability if certain criteria were met. While uncertainty prevails as to the UK’s ongoing relationship with the European Union, organisations nevertheless need to be aware of the new responsibilities the ruling raises and their vulnerability to being sued if they fall foul of the rules.
That’s why we have carried out research with a selection of HR professionals across a number of sectors to determine their awareness of the ruling and whether they monitor employee obesity levels; whether they have ever discriminated against a candidate on the basis of their weight; and details of any wellbeing schemes they have put in place.
The findings make interesting reading – for example, 34% of companies say that a candidate’s obesity has influenced their decision to reject them for a role. Companies list a range of reasons, from concerns over potential sickness absence to fears around health and safety.
Despite relatively high levels of discrimination during the recruitment process, the picture for current employees was more positive. For example, organisations are taking a wide range of steps to help employees get healthier, including providing gym memberships and running healthy eating campaigns.
However, 60% of companies do not record the obesity levels of employees that are involved in workplace accidents.
The key message is that companies must face the obesity issue head on and take proactive steps to manage it, minimising their risks and helping employees improve their health, resulting in positive outcomes for all – no means least in reducing absence rates and associated costs. A key benefit that this should bring to companies is a reduction in claims arising from incidents where obesity may have played a role
QBE European Operations