There are dozens of protections in place that protect employees against discriminatory practices in the workplace. These protections exist at both federal and state levels.
While many people might assume that, in addition to other protections, safeguards exist to prevent employers from making employment decisions based on weight, those individuals would be wrong. Weight discrimination is a very real and very prevalent problem in the United States and across the globe.
The prevalence of weight discrimination in the workplace
According to an infographic presented by Eastern Kentucky University, a whopping 93% of surveyed employers said they would rather hire a person of “normal” weight than a person who is visibly overweight. Employees are not the only ones guilty of discriminatory practices, though. According to the same study, as many as 67% of employees must meet certain weight requirements to qualify for health benefits from their employers.
Though, per the study’s findings, most employers agree that they would rather not hire overweight individuals, their thoughts on obesity vary. At 70%, the majority believe that obesity is a genetic condition. Nearly or more than half of all respondents believe that obesity is a preventable condition that is treatable according to a person’s will (59%), a disease that is the result of a lack of willpower (57%) or is simply the result of poor lifestyle choices (44%).
The implications of weight discrimination
Weight discrimination in any aspect of a person’s life can have harmful implications. Medical News Today details several adverse effects of weight discrimination, which include poor self-esteem, increased weight gain, decreased mental health, adverse health outcomes and reduced socioeconomic status. In terms of employment, weight discrimination can affect decisions regarding everything from hiring to salary determinations to promotions. Weight also affects how employers discipline employees, dole out career counseling opportunities and handle contract terminations. The legality of weight discrimination
Unfortunately, weight discrimination is not illegal. To date, just one state — Michigan — has any laws in place to outlaw weight bias in the workplace. Other than that, federal laws do not exist to protect workers against weight discrimination in any work, educational or healthcare setting. Nor do any laws exist at a state level in California.
Individuals who do believe they are targets of weight discrimination may also be targets of other unfair employment practices. Though they cannot file a claim based on weight bias, it may be worth their while to explore other legal options.