Obesity in the Workplace

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America Weighs In

John Burke
11/23/2010
MGT-312 FE
Wednesday 6:30-9:10

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Abstract

Obesity issues in the workplace will continue to grow and be problematic if there aren’t any changes made in the near future. Obesity is classified in two ways; (1) obesity resulting from a disease or disorder and (2) obesity from poor eating habits and lack of exercise. Analyzing various court cases there seems to be no definitive answer as to what type of workplace obesity issues are covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The way the rules of the ADA are structured allows for the rules to be interpreted in different ways. A few changes to the ADA structure will be beneficial in regards to legality of discrimination claims. Also changes inside the organization to promote health and wellness should stomp out the majority of issues in the workplace.

Summary

A non-profit Pennsylvania corporation located in New Orleans, LA named Resources for Human Development, Inc. (RHD) has a lawsuit on their hands after firing employee, Lisa Harrison, because of her obesity. The U.S Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) filed suit against the company for violating the rights stated in the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The ADA law prohibits discrimination based on disability. Harrison began working for RHD in 1999 and remained there until September of 2007 when she was let go because of her severe obesity. RHD claimed Harrison was limited in a number of major life activities, including walking. However, according to the lawsuit, her obesity did not interfere with the fulfillment of her job description and her ability to perform the essential functions of her job. Unfortunately, Harrison passed away before the EEOC filed suit.

Adverse Impact is a big part of this case. Adverse impact refers to the rejection of a significantly higher percentage of a protected class for employment, placement, or promotion when compared with the successful, non protected class. Ms. Harrison after spending over seven years doing quality work and fulfilling the duties asked of her was just let go. She was discriminated against because of her weight which had no significant impact on how she performed her job.

This firing represents discrimination based on a person’s disability. As long of Ms. Harrison was still able to do her job there was no reason for her to be terminated. This lawsuit represents the grey area when it comes to diagnosing whether or not obesity should be considered a disability. With the continuous increase of obesity among U.S adults each and every year these problems will continue to surface over and over again. Situations like this are going to be continually challenged by organizations who are worried about overweight employees being less productive than average weight coworkers. Can a company fire an overweight employee who is underperforming without them filing a lawsuit claiming disability? There are two types of obesity; (1) physiological obesity which is obesity that is caused by a disease and (2) obesity that is the result of overeating and lack of exercise. There is a fine line between that two and it is costing some people jobs when they should be protected under federal laws. Any employer that fires somebody because of obesity is going to face this same problem, whether they were fired because of lack of production in the workplace or were they discriminated upon because of their weight. It also represents the huge problem of obesity that continues to grow in the workplace and will only get worse as the obesity rate among Americans continues to climb year in and year out.

Obesity is a crucial topic for discussion among managers. Whether you’ve been managing for years or you have aspirations of acquiring a management position this topic is crucial to handling your employees effectively. This...
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