Many people here in San Antonio probably remember reading news reports last spring about a hospital in Victoria, Texas, banning obese people from employment.
At the time, the hospital said it made the decision because it is a health care facility and its employees must represent a healthy lifestyle. Before it could be legally challenged, the negative publicity ultimately led the hospital to step back from the policy. Nonetheless, as the U.S. continues to battle an obesity epidemic–with 36 percent of all adults in the country considered obese–this is becoming an issue with which many employees grapple. Some employers might want to keep their health care costs down by discriminating against overweight job applicants, but is weight discrimination legal?
Weight is not a protected class in federal anti-discrimination laws. However, a few cities and one state do specifically ban employers from discriminating against overweight workers, but we do not have a policy like this here in Texas.
However, under the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers cannot base hiring, firing or other job decisions based on disability, and in some cases obesity is considered a disability. One must be diagnosed as morbidly obese to be considered disabled. Nonetheless, there are a number of weight related conditions, such as diabetes and heart-disease, which would also provide ADA-protection to an employee or job applicant.
Furthermore, women are more likely to be discriminated against because of weight than men. In these cases, this could also be called sex discrimination, which is illegal.
So, in conclusion, there is no clear answer as to whether an employer can legally discriminate against a worker or applicant because of his or her weight. In many cases, it would be illegal because it would fall under a tangential category of discrimination. Therefore, employers would wish to encourage healthy weights would be smart to do so by maintaining a healthy workplace culture, not by firing or refusing employment to those who struggle with their weight. And, those who think they have been discriminated against due to their waistline may be wise to seek legal advice.
Source: Business Management Daily, “Cutting the Fat: Can Employers Just Say ‘No’ to Obese Applicants,” Pat Didomenico, Sept. 28, 2012