Health club Fitness First could be vulnerable to sex and disability discrimination claims after urging regional gym managers to "consider the impact of having larger employees".
The company hit the headlines last week after its HR director Lisa Somerville sent an e-mail - subsequently leaked to the press - to regional managers.
The leaked memo said: "As we are a health club and are promoting weight loss, please consider the impact of having larger employees (both men and women). We are not asking you to have a discriminatory policy but Mike [the chief executive] has asked me to subtly make you aware of the situation,"
The e-mail was sent out on behalf of chief executive Mike Balfour to remind managers they should not request uniforms over a size 16 because, it was claimed, this would add considerable costs to the firm's merchandising budget.
Makbool Javaid, employment partner at employment law firm DLA, claimed the e-mail potentially leaves the company open to discrimination claims. "There's a potential for sex discrimination because although the memo says staff are not being asked to be discriminatory or that it's aimed at women, it refers to size 16, which are women's clothes size and not men's," he said.
"Obesity can be a medical condition, such as a thyroid condition, so there could be a discrimination claim if it's a condition that fits in with the Disability Discrimination Act."
Peter Etherington, business support helplines manager at Croner Consulting disagreed. He said: "At present size and weight are not discriminatory issues under UK law, and Fitness First makes it clear that this [policy] applies to both men and women, removing any direct sexual discrimination claim."
A spokesperson for Fitness First denied it is discriminating against larger people, blaming " a misinterpretation of an internal request regarding the purchase of uniforms".
By Roisin Woolnough