Obesity rates are rising in New Zealand. For many people this raises various health issues. What people may not realise is that weight is increasingly forming the basis of many legal disputes within the employment arena.

In a recent Australian case, obesity was found to be a valid reason for dismissal on the basis that the employee was incapable of safely and competently performing his role. The employee was a forklift driver and his weight exceeded the maximum allowed on the forklift. This created a workplace safety issue. Additionally, the employee was found to be suffering from obesity related health concerns. The employee had severe obstructive sleep apnoea, which an occupational therapist advised could affect his ability to perform his job safely.

But what would the outcome be in New Zealand?

In New Zealand, employers are entitled to require their employees to maintain a general level of health and fitness in order for them to stay suitable for the role that they are performing. 

However, obesity is not grounds for instant dismissal. Employers must still go through an investigation process before deciding whether dismissal is the appropriate outcome.