Is size in the eye of the beholder?

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We are watching with interest a case that is currently before the European Court of Justice: a Danish childcare worker has lodged a claim of discrimination on the grounds that he was sacked for being fat. The test case throws up the question of whether obesity should be considered a disability, and that has consequences across many industries.

Naturally our thoughts turn to our clients, who, throughout the globe, employ people in all shapes and sizes, most of them in customer-facing jobs, and all of them needing uniforms. Depending on which way the ruling goes, their staff recruitment policy will perhaps have additional complexity.

One of the key conundrums is around image, and, shallow though it might seem, if you are paying to stay in a five star hotel, wouldn’t you expect the staff to look a million dollars too? In spas, which are increasingly focussed on well-being, diet and fitness, there is additional pressure on staff who are promoting good health as part of their job to look as though their evening meal consists of lean white meat and a salad rather than double burger and chips followed by a whole cheesecake. Spa managers may argue that health workers need to look like healthy workers.

But it’s not all about the numbers. You can be a large size, but not necessarily overweight. When we moved into the US market, we had to increase our size range to accommodate the larger body types to take account of the diversity in ethnicity and therefore body shapes in the country.

Against that is the recognition that not everyone is size zero – and there is plenty of debate to be had over whether the pursuit of the smallest, skinniest figure possible is as unhealthy as being severely overweight. And would it be right for a company to encourage or discourage that?

Whichever side of the tape measure you’re standing on, the outcome of this case will definitely have implications for recruitment policy as well as for existing staff, especially across image- and health-based businesses. Watch this space.

What do you think? Email us with your thoughts.

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