Discrimination Against Obese Employees is Common and Accepted - My Bariatric Life

by Cheryl Ann Borne Patient Advocate

I have worked in the health and wellness industry my entire career. But it was not until I lost weight following gastric bypass surgery that anyone would hire me. Before losing weight, I only could get hired for temporary work assignments. That went on for nearly 10 solid years.

Coincidence? Surely not.

Understanding Obesity Discrimination

Obesity discrimination can be defined as unfair treatment of an overweight person or group of people based on prejudice, making determinations based on a person's weight rather than their abilities and merit, or less favorable treatment of a person because she is obese.

Obesity discrimination also increases as does a person's weight. Discrimination has been reported by 10% of overweight women, 20% of obese women, and 45% of very obese women respectively.

Fat Discrimination is an Accepted Prejudice

There is no question that obese people are discriminated against in the workplace and, to exacerbate matters that much more, discrimination against the obese seems to be one of the last types of accepted prejudice.

Studies have shown that people who are overweight face discrimination regarding appraisals for job performance and other job related decisions. They are also assessed as emotionally impaired and are charged with having negative personality characteristics.

Workplace Discrimination Against Obesity

Workplace discrimination based on weight was discovered to be more common than discrimination based on personal characteristics, and negative attitudes against obese people were also found to be more prevalent than negative attitudes against ex-felons or ex-mental patients.

Obese people have greater difficulty finding jobs, get fewer promotions, receive worse treatment, are more likely to be terminated, and receive lower wages than their normal-weight counterparts. These infractions are particularly common toward obese white women who receive an average wage that is 24.1% lower than their peers.

Overweight respondents to a national survey where found to be 12 times more likely to report incidents of discrimination in the workplace than were normal-weight workers. Obese respondents were 37 times more likely to report incidents of workplace discrimination and severely obese people were 100 times more likely to claim instances of obesity related workplace discrimination.

Finally, obese women have a 5.8% greater chance of losing their jobs while obese men have a 4.8% higher chance than do their non-obese co-workers.

Laws Against Obesity Discrimination

There are currently no federal laws defining obesity as a "protected characteristic" like race, sex, and religion -- and Michigan is the only state to have laws protecting against obesity discrimination. Despite such oversights, the Americans With Disabilities Act does provide recourse for those obese people who need some help.

Because of a lawsuit filed against BAE Systems by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, obese people have an avenue of protection. A long-term employee of the company who weighed in excess of 600 pounds was terminated because of his weight. The contention was that he could no longer satisfactorily perform his duties because of his obesity. The company made no reasonable attempts to seek an alternative solution.

Following a revision, the Americans With Disabilities Act now considers a person disabled if that person has a disability, a record of a disability, or is regarded as disabled to an extent that the disability limits major activities.

Reasonable employers can now adapt their approach to better address the needs of obese employees. However, the issue of size acceptance in the workplace remains largely unaddressed.

Cheryl Ann Borne
Meet Our Writer
Cheryl Ann Borne

Cheryl Ann Borne, writing as My Bariatric Life, is a contributing writer and Paleo recipe developer. Cheryl is an award-winning healthcare communications professional and obesity health advocate who has overcome super obesity and it’s related diseases. She publishes the website MyBariatricLife.org, and microblogs on Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest. Cheryl is also writing her first book and working on a second website.