Is Obesity Discrimination Illegal?
When weight issues may be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act
Is it really true that it’s harder to get hired if you’re obese?
Recent research says yes. But if that’s true, it raises another question: is obesity
While obesity is not specifically named in any federal laws that protect
against discrimination, there are some cases in which obesity discrimination
may be considered unlawful. Let’s take a closer look at this issue.
When obesity is a disability
While obesity itself is not considered a disability, there are multiple
obesity-related conditions that could trigger coverage under the Americans
with Disabilities Act (ADA).
In any case, it’s important to note that the ADA does not cover a
set list of health conditions. Rather, coverage is determined on a case-by-case
basis. That means that an individual’s health circumstances must
be evaluated within the context of his or her life.
For example, one person may find a condition such as diabetes to be life
altering, while another experiences the condition as little more than
In terms of obesity, a person may qualify for ADA coverage if his or her
weight causes a major life activity to be impaired. Major life activities
may include walking, talking, hearing, seeing, caring for oneself, sleeping,
breathing, and several other things, including the operation of major
Once ADA coverage is determined, a person is eligible for the same protection
as any other person covered by the ADA. That includes:
- protection from hiring discrimination
- possible entitlement to job accommodations, and
- protection from discriminatory actions on the job.
Even if an obese individual is not disabled, he or she may still be able
to make a claim under the ADA. If a job applicant or worker is treated
unlawfully because of assumptions of a disability, then that may be an
unlawful action under the ADA. This is called “regarded as”
discrimination, because the person was regarded as being disabled.
Example: a manager refuses to hire an obese individual because he assumes
she is diabetic and will need breaks to handle insulin.
When companies may legally refuse to hire
Companies may refuse to employ or may terminate workers who are unable
to complete the essential functions of their jobs.
Here’s where things may get complicated in terms of obesity and
the ADA. If an obese individual is covered by the ADA, he or she may be
entitled to a job accommodation that would allow him or her to complete
certain job tasks.
However, if a person is not covered by the ADA, then the company is under
no obligation to provide an accommodation.
Call us now for a consultation
Obviously, issues surrounding obesity and the ADA can get extremely complex.
If you believe that you’ve been discriminated against because of
a potential disability, it’s wise to speak to an attorney.
Call or email us today to discuss your unique situation.