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Is Obesity Discrimination Illegal?


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 discrimination legal?

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 an inconvenience.

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 bodily functions.

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.

Unfair stereotypes

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.
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