I have worked in the health and wellness industry for my entire career. But it was not until I lost weight following gastric bypass surgery that anyone would hire me on their staff. Before losing weight, I only could get hired for temporary work assignments. That went on for nearly 10 solid years. This practice could have been unlikely coincidence, but the more solid assumption is that I was not hired due to weight discrimination in the workplace.
Defining Weight Discrimination
Weight discrimination can be defined as unfair treatment of an overweight person or group of people. It is based on prejudice, making determinations based on a person’s weight rather than her abilities and merit. As well, less favorable treatment may be given a person because she is obese.
Weight discrimination increases along with a person’s increased weight. Discrimination has been reported by 10% of overweight women, 20% of obese women, and 45% of very obese women.
Weight Discrimination at Work is an Accepted Prejudice
There is no question that obese people are discriminated against in the workplace. To exacerbate matters that much more, weight bias seems to be one of the last types of accepted prejudices.
Studies have shown that people who are overweight face weight discrimination in the workplace when appraised for job performance as well as other job related decisions. Overweight people also are assessed as emotionally impaired and having negative personality characteristics.
Workplace Discrimination Against Obesity
Workplace weight discrimination was found to be more common than discrimination based on personal characteristics. Negative attitudes against obese people were also found to be more common than negative attitudes against ex-felons or ex-mentally ill 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. Obese men have a 4.8% higher chance than 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. Michigan is the only state to have weight bias laws protecting against obesity discrimination. Six cities also have laws against weight discrimination: San Fransisco and Santa Cruz CA, Madison WI, Urbana IL, Birmingham NY, and Washington DC.
Despite such oversights, the Americans With Disabilities Act does provide aid for those obese people who need help. Because of a lawsuit filed against BAE Systems by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, obese people have some 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 an actual 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.
Living larger than ever,
My Bariatric Life