Avoid Discriminating against Obesity | DCR Workforce Blog

Avoid Discriminating against Obesity

According to statistics released by the Center for Disease Control, 36% of all Americans are fighting the ‘battle of the bulge’ thanks to genetics, medical conditions, fast food and stressful lives. For persons who suffer from the physical effects of obesity like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and increased risk of cancer; it does not help that the world looks upon their problem as self-inflicted and ridicules them for being the victims of their own dangerous lifestyle choices and ‘misbehavior’! Many believe that the ridicule and discrimination will help to motivate the ‘lazy obese person without self-control and discipline’ to initiate weight-loss efforts with sincerity!

The National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance (NAAFA) has conducted studies, which show that discrimination towards obese people in the workplace, education system, and healthcare system is undisputable growing rapidly. According to NAAFA, overweight adults are 12 times more likely to experience discrimination in employment, obese adults 37 times, and severely obese people 100 times. Such treatment causes medical and psychological effects, as well as serious financial problems if the person cannot find gainful employment, or cannot demand wage parity from the employer. Lack of academic options and advancement will result in impaired prospects and financial loss. Overweight people are generally paid 6% less than their colleagues who are not obese, and are universally branded as underachievers.

The EEOC now counts general obesity as an impairment – and not just morbid obesity. Since obesity is a condition which could limit one’s life activities like bending, walking, digesting and in general mobility; the EEOC extends protection for obesity under the ADA – or Americans with Disabilities Act.

Protection under the ADA would imply that an employer would have to provide reasonable accommodation to meet the needs of the employee.

Accommodations towards Obesity would include:

  • Avoiding the mention of Body Mass Index (BMI) as a qualifying factor for any job application
  • Avoid making and voicing assumptions about an obese employee’s ability to perform a job
  • Avoid divulging information with regard to an employee’s health condition and other detail in a reference letter
  • Provide them with an appropriate work environment and equipment, which may include larger chairs, sturdier restroom equipment, larger workspaces and bigger seat belt mechanisms
  • Allow them to sit when serving customers
  • Avoid imposing a need on them to climb staircases
  • Customize the office uniforms to fit them

Employer managers and human resource professionals must receive suitable guidance and training to address situations presenting difficulties to obese employees in compliance with the EEOC’s guidance. They must ensure that they are not in violation of the EEOC’s stringent disability discrimination laws. Staffing firms need to note that they would face liability for their own failure as well as the failure of their customers should either of them fail to provide reasonable obesity-related accommodation to the contingent worker protected under these provisions.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.