Kate Winslet Wins Libel Battle and Stagecoach Drivers Need to Lose Weight

The HR Headmistress was amused to discover that two subjects as disparate as Oscar-winning actress Kate Winslet and some cuddly Stagecoach drivers have cropped up in roughly the same subject bracket this week.

Kate Winslet, star of "Titanic" and "The Reader" sued the Daily Mail over an article published in January entitled "Should Kate Winslet win an Oscar for the world's most irritating actress?"

The article disputed Miss Winslet's assertion that she did not attend a gym but exercised for 20 minutes or so each day at home, suggesting that she must have worked harder on her figure.

This week the actress accepted £25,000 in libel damages. Her lawyer Rachel Atkins said the story, was offensive in tone. "The claimant has frequently asserted the right of women to accept the way that they look and by accusing her of trying to mislead the public, the defendant caused her a great deal of distress," Atkins said.

"It was simply not true." The Daily Mails published an apology in September accepting that Miss Winslet had not been duplicitous, and had agreed to pay the damages and costs.

Perhaps the Stagecoach bus drivers, whose weight now exceeds 23 stone, should take a leaf from Miss Winslet’s book and exercise each day for 20 minutes. Stagecoach says it has reminded all its drivers across the UK about the safety limits, which it says are set by bus manufacturers.

The firm says there is a 20 to 23 stone safety limit in the drivers' cabs. The policy has been introduced the policy nationally following fears that drivers’ seats could collapse. The weight limits do not apply to passengers. The issue is with the drivers' seats, because they are adjustable and the mechanisms have maximum safe working loads.

Those barred from driving because of their weight are being offered support to get fitter or alternative work within the company. Union representatives, who are working with Stagecoach on the issue, say they have advised introducing healthy food into staff canteens or possibly subsidising gym memberships for staff.

Bobby Morton, of the Unite union, which represents Stagecoach employees, said: "The situation was highlighted to us that there could be a risk to health and safety because the seats on some of the vehicles can't take weight over 20 stone and may collapse.

Despite the commonsense approach demonstrated, this turn of events has caused some grumbles. One driver (who declined to be named) described the move as blatant discrimination, who claims he was ordered to 'go to Tesco' and get weighed. He said: "I've been a driver for years. It's so embarrassing to be called into the office and to be told to go to the local supermarket to get weighed.

Then to be told I am too fat to drive a bus is ridiculous. They are just discriminating against people who are overweight." (Just for that driver’s information, as yet there is no anti-discrimination legislation specifically dealing with obesity, but in this madly PC world it may well come ......)

It’s understandable that larger employees may feel uncomfortable about this policy, but employers have a huge responsibility under the health and safety legislation. Can you imagine the carnage if a seat broke under a weighty driver when he’s bowling along at 40mph with a full load of passengers in rush hour traffic?

By working with union representatives, and seeking to accommodate employees who breach the 23 stone requirement, Stagecoach have taken a sensible, justifiable and proportionate approach. For guidance on policies and procedures relating to discrimination or to review your staff handbook call us.

Russell HR Consulting provides expert knowledge in HR solutions, employment law training and HR tools and resources to businesses across the UK.

Subscribe to our free monthly HR newsletter. Russell HR Consulting employment law newsletters are emailed automatically to our ever-growing number of subscribers every month.