I was watching FoxNews tonight and they covered a story on discrimination against obese persons in the workplace. Specifically, and most outrageous, they reported that some companies fire and won’t hire people who are obese. The reason given, rising healthcare costs.
Now, you know I don’t advocate obesity. I say eat right, exercise and make every effort you can to return to a healthy weight. However, I also don’t advocate discrimination on the part of employers just because someone is overweight, even morbidly so.
A summary of twenty-nine laboratory and field studies published by the American Obesity Association, for example, shows that:
- Overweight persons are subject to discrimination in performance appraisals and other employment decisions based on body weight and they are stereotyped as emotionally impaired and possessing negative personality traits.
- Wages of morbidly obese white women are 24.1% lower that their standard weight counterparts.
- Discrimination based upon weight is far more common than discrimination based on personal characteristics such as sex.
- People display more negative attitudes toward overweight employees than toward ex-felons or ex-mental patients.
I realize rising health costs are crippling the marketplace. I also realize employers have the right to hire and fire anyone they choose. At least that’s the case in my state. But, that doesn’t make it right.
What legal recourse do obese people have? The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), 42 U.S.C. § 12101, which was passed in 1990, bars discrimination based on disability and requires that employers provide a reasonable accommodation in the workplace to qualified individuals with a disability. While obesity is not generally considered a disability, morbid obesity often is.
For a further explanation of what the law says and what legal might be taken, read Obesity and Morbid Obesity in the Workplace.