Can You Be Discriminated Against Due to Weight?

by Adele Burney

Jokes regarding overweight individuals are prevalent in movies and sitcoms, but weight discrimination in the workplace is no laughing matter. As obesity rates rise in America, so does the amount of discrimination against those who are obese. Of course, this behavior is reprehensible, but it is not always illegal. If you are applying for a job there is the possibility that you can be turned down if your weight does not fall within the company’s guidelines.

The Legal Issue

Currently only a handful of cities and one state, Michigan, prohibit discrimination of weight-challenged individuals. The national obesity numbers continue to rise, but the law has been slow to keep pace. Over 32 percent of all Americans meet the definition of clinically obese. The main reason states are reluctant to enact laws preventing discrimination is the fear that companies will revolt and leave their states. The threat of losing revenue is overwhelming. States do not want to tell companies how to run their businesses.

Americans With Disabilities

Although the laws specifically referencing height and weight discrimination are few, there is a law on the books protecting those with disabilities. Some people believe that being obese is a disability in that it limits your physical capabilities. Based on that assumption, some individuals have fought back against weight discrimination. Success is not always guaranteed, though, because some companies and federal courts feel that obesity is a lifestyle choice and therefore not a protected class like a physical disability is.

Reasons for Discriminating

One of the chief reasons businesses use to justify discrimination against overweight individuals is the issue of safety. The argument is that the size of some people can prove to be a hazard in some situations. Some companies that legitimately use this argument are airlines and law enforcement. Other companies simply feel that overweight people do not portray the proper aesthetic for the workplace. This reasoning is usually used in the fashion industry, healthcare and fitness fields. Some restaurants such as Hooters, which relies on a certain look for their servers, have also come under fire for weight discrimination.

Discrimination Issues in the Workplace

As the Hooter’s example shows, not all discrimination regarding weight happens during the hiring process. Some issues occur over time as people put on weight. Unfortunately, women are more likely to be targeted for weight gain than men are. Employers have been recorded as telling employees that they must lose weight or risk termination. Larger employees may also face higher insurance rates due to their weight. The pressure to lose weight sometimes backfires and the employee puts on more weight from the added stress.

About the Author

Adele Burney started her writing career in 2009 when she was a featured writer in "Membership Matters," the magazine for Junior League. She is a finance manager who brings more than 10 years of accounting and finance experience to her online articles. Burney has a degree in organizational communications and a Master of Business Administration from Rollins College.

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