How Should Employees Fight Weight Discrimination at Work?

Obesity in America affects workers in every industry. In fact, more than a quarter of workers in the United States are considered obese. Still, the ubiquity of the problem does nothing to provide solace to individual workers who suffer from certain negative attitudes and hurtful opinions that influence workplace discrimination on the basis of their weight.

When people endure harsh and unfair treatment that singles them out as a result of their size, it seems cruel to find that federal anti-discrimination laws offer no protection for them. Although laws exist to protect a variety of other classes of citizens from discrimination on the basis of gender, race, disability, religion, among many others, there are no such protections for people mistreated for being overweight.

However, to the relief of many workers who experience workplace discrimination because of weight, the issue can be addressed cleverly by applying laws that protect people whose obesity issues are caused by medical conditions that are covered by anti-discrimination laws.

What Laws Can Be Applied to Protect Workers from Weight Discrimination?

State and local laws may also apply in specific areas. In New Jersey, employees may be protected by the New Jersey Law Against Discrimination (NJLAD). On the federal level, anti-discrimination laws enforced by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) offer protection for people being subjected to discrimination based on weight issues that are related to covered medical conditions. Under this reading of the laws, these conditions and, by extension, the obesity they cause, can qualify overweight persons as falling under the protections of the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA).

The ADAAA amended 1990’s Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to broaden the definition as to what qualifies as a disability. This step allows the law to recognize the limitations caused by severe obesity as well as other illnesses that cause body weight issues and allow the reclassification to extend the law’s protections.

What Medical Conditions Might Apply to Weight Discrimination Claims?

Although federal employment laws do not expressly address concerns of weight and obesity discrimination, there are federal protections under the ADAAA that apply to people with qualifying medical conditions that relate to or affect their body weight, such as: 

  • Diabetes
  • High blood pressure
  • Gout
  • Heart disease
  • Liver disease
  • Kidney disease
  • Thyroid problems
  • Other conditions that cause weight issues, whether overweight or underweight

Beyond Prohibiting Weight-Related Discrimination, What Does the ADAAA Require from Employers?

Companies with 15 or more employees are required to make reasonable accommodations for employees with medical disabilities, including those listed above, and others that may or may not affect a person’s weight. These accommodations may include:

  • Affording access to facilities as needed
  • Allowing time off for medical appointments
  • Accommodating the need to take medications at work
  • Providing a workstation that suits the worker’s size and needs
  • Making other requested accommodations as appropriate
  • Refraining from any retaliation as a result of disabilities or the need for accommodation

What Should Be Done to Fight Weight-Related Employment Discrimination?

Workers who have endured weight discrimination should file a claim with the EEOC within the 180-day federal deadline, which may be extended to 300 days in some states. A successful claim may result in financial compensation and/or injunctive relief that may require reinstatement of employment or changes to company policies.

South Jersey Employment Lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, Represent Clients Who Are Discriminated Against for Their Weight

It is wrong for employers to single out a person for their weight or the physical or medical requirements of their condition. Discrimination laws exist to protect workers from such intolerance. The South Jersey employment lawyers at The Law Offices of Leo B. Dubler, III, LLC, have experience holding employers accountable for their unfair treatment of employees. Call us today at 856-235-7075 or contact us online for a free consultation. With office locations in Mount Laurel and Atlantic City, New Jersey, we proudly serve clients from Cherry Hill, Burlington County, Camden County, and throughout South Jersey.