It is no secret that more Americans are overweight than ever before. Whether it’s due to busier lives that lead to less healthy cooking and exercise, or the abundance of more unhealthy foods available, our waistlines are growing. Unfortunately, our tolerance for overweight people has not grown. One place that this is very evident is at work. People who are overweight often feel they are treated unfairly at work, and they appear to be right.
If a worker is discriminated against because of their size, are they protected by any of the federal or state discrimination laws? Not exactly. Several federal discrimination laws exist, but none of them specifically include obese or overweight workers. Only the state of Michigan and a few cities in the United States have any type of laws that prohibit discrimination based on weight or physical appearance. However, obese and overweight workers have taken legal action against employers who have discriminated against them and received monetary damages either through trial or settlement.
According to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), a person who is morbidly obese can be considered disabled, which would make a morbidly obese employee protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). People who suffer from other conditions because of their weight, such as diabetes or heart disease, may also be protected by the ADA if they are treated unfairly because of their conditions or are denied special accommodations that would allow them to perform certain types of work. Some discrimination lawsuits have been filed on behalf of employees who were allegedly discriminated against because their employer considered them disabled simply because of their weight. One such lawsuit claims that a woman’s employer thought she was unable to perform certain job duties because she was obese, when in fact she was able to do everything required of her for the position. The case is still pending.