Common Sense Says You Should Not Be Judged By Your Weight, But Is it Against the Law?

Extra weight does not affect a person’s intellect, work ethic or professionalism. Yet, overweight workers often face pervasive employment discrimination. Sadly, in many instances, the discrimination is tolerated. Unjustly, the laws offer little recourse.

The Obesity Action Coalition (OAC) reports the following:

“Unfortunately, weight bias remains very socially acceptable in North American culture; it is rarely challenged, and often ignored. As a result, thousands of obese individuals are at risk for unfair treatment, and there are few outlets available to provide support or protection.”

In fact, U.S. and New York legislation do not directly forbid discrimination against an overweight or obese employee. However, workers may build a case based on the following existing state and federal regulations:

  • Americans with Disabilities Act — Whether overweight workers are considered disabled under the ADA is up for constant debate. A person who is morbidly obese would likely have a greater chance of prevailing on an ADA claim than a person who is overweight, but not obese, unless she or he also had a disability.
  • ADA based on a medical condition — Medical conditions associated with excess weight — such as diabetes or hypertension — may be considered disabilities under the ADA. Fortunately, many people who are overweight are very healthy. Unfortunately, they may suffer discrimination and not have a valid ADA claim.
  • New York anti-bullying laws — New York anti-bullying legislation is intended to protect people who are overweight or otherwise marginalized from harassment.
  • EEOC caution against pre-employment height and weight inquiries — The EEOC warns employers not to inquire about height and weight unless they can prove a job-related reason for doing so.

The Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity published a study in 2006 that found 54 percent of its 2,400 participants reported being stigmatized by coworkers based on their weight, while 43 percent reported weight bias from employers and supervisors.

Although the law and the public have a long way to go, you may have options if you are the target of weight discrimination or harassment in NYC. Consult with an employment law attorney who can help you take appropriate action against unfair treatment.

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