Weight Discrimination: Are You Too Fat To Work Here?
Spring* Quarter 200*9
*June 6*, 2009
As the average weight for Americans increases, businesses are faced with obesity as they look to hire positions. Is this against the law? What about essential functions of the job? Can a business offer reasonable accommodations for a prospective obese employee? Are these employees being discriminated against in the hiring process? These are questions I will strive to answer here. I have felt discriminated for being a plus-size woman in the workplace and I want to find out if this is happening other places in the United States. Over 100 million Americans areoverweight and approximately 70 million American adults are considered obese. These are staggering numbers and as industry grows so does the very real possibility that a business will be faced with hiring the morbidlyobese. What protection does a business have, if any? What protection does the applicant have, if any? WHAT IS OBESITY?
People are considered obese if they weigh more than 20 percent above the expected weight for their age, height and body build. Morbid obesity is defined as body weight that is 100 pounds above the expected weight for a particular age, height and build. One particular item of interest here is that people who share the same numerical weight could have quite different appearances. According to the North American Association for the Study of Obesity, obesity is associated with increased risks of diabetes, hypertension, some cancers, sleep disorders and osteoarthritis. Risks and complications associated with obesity cost the country’s health care system an estimated $117 billion per year, the US Surgeon General has estimated. Obesity-related illness accounts for 18 million sick days annually in the U.S. (Sartore, 2007). According to the National Institute of Health, between $75 and $125 billion is spent annually on direct and indirect costs due to obesity-related diseases (Weis, 2006). It is estimated the direct costs of medical spending on obesity and weight-related infirmities to be $92.6 billion in 2002 dollars (Finkelstein, 2007). Poor diet and sedentary lifestyle, the two controllable contributing factors in obesity, are responsible for between 300,000 and 587,000 deaths per year, making this combo the second leading cause of preventable death after smoking (American Obesity Association, 2005). The personnel costs of overweight employees is greater than for healthy weight employees and the effects on productivity eclipse the simple measurement of dollars lost to medical care, sick days, long-term disability, and working-age mortality. PROTECTION FOR OBESE EMPLOYEES
Discrimination on the basis of weight can be found in all aspects of employment: selection, placement, compensation, and promotion. Another consistent finding is that obesity discrimination is more prevalent for women than for men, even for mildly obese and overweight women (Carpenter, 2006). There are several state and local ordinances around the country that I was able to locate. The State of Michigan has adopted the Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act, Act 453 of 1976, which bans discrimination in employment based on race, color, religion, national origin, age, sex, height, weight, or marital status. This is the only state to enact such protection. Santa Cruz, California defines unlawful discrimination as “differential treatment as a result of that person’s race, color, creed, religion, national origin, ancestry, disability, marital status, sex, gender, sexual orientation, height, weight, or physical characteristic”. The District of Columbia Human Rights Law outlaws discrimination in employment based upon “race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, marital status, personal appearance, sexual orientation, family responsibilities, physical handicap, matriculation, or...