A Government adviser has sparked a debate about the possibility of allowing obese staff to turn up later for work so they can avoid the worst of the rush hour.
Last week, several newspapers reported that Professor Stephan Bevan of the Institute for Employment Studies suggested letting obese staff who feel anxious about travelling on public transport arrive an hour later, or work from home, to help them cope.
“It can be working time, it can be having a bit of understanding that someone might need to turn up at 10 o’clock because they have trouble with transport or anxiety about transport,” Professor Bevan is reported as saying at the European Congress on Obesity in Vienna.
However, Bevan himself has distanced himself from the quotes, suggesting publications have taken them out of context. He said that the point of his talk was to ensure that, in Europe, employers are aware of the legal duty to make workplace adaptations for workers with impairments, including those that are obesity-related.
Nevertheless, the articles have raised an interesting issue around how businesses treat overweight staff or candidates.
Recruitment Grapevine spoke to Ricky Martin, Founder and Managing Director of Hyper Recruitment Solutions(HRS), about Bevan’s suggestions. He said: “Every candidate should be judged on their ability, skill set and attitude to the job they are applying for – this has always been the case for the partners that we [HRS] work with in placing talent. 13 years of supporting careers I’ve never come across an employer or an employee making assertions such as these.
“The reality of the matter is, to determine who is obese and to then create separate rules runs the risk of creating negative working environments, foster prejudice and could ultimately lead to loss of productivity.”
Martin added that, regardless of an individual’s situation, if they have a legitimate cause for flexible working they can make a formal application to their employer.
Separate research suggests there is a penalty for being overweight when it comes to securing a job.
A 2015 survey by employment law specialist, Crossland Employment Solicitors, found that nearly half (45%) of British employers are less inclined to recruit an applicant at interview stage if they are obese.
61% of the employers questioned said they were worried about the potential costs to the business to accommodate the side effects of overweight staff. A further 63% also cited a fear of being taken to court on grounds of discrimination if the disability needs of obese workers aren't met.
Just over a quarter (26%) said they were less inclined to hire obese people due to their lack of awareness of the laws around employing obese workers.
For example, if at the hiring stage an obese candidate explains their long-term conditions, and the company doesn’t employ them, the applicant could then try to claim disability discrimination.