Approximately one third of Americans are overweight. Unfortunately, no federal law protects workers from discrimination depending on obesity or weight per se. However, other laws within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) may protect workers in Pennsylvania from discrimination because of their weight. Here's what you should know.
Weight Discrimination Defined
Weight discrimination (sometimes called size discrimination) occurs when someone is treated differently because of their weight. The national anti-discrimination law - Title VII - does not specify weight as a protected feature. Therefore, the law doesn't forbid companies from discriminating against employees based on weight.
Is Obesity a Handicap?
The ADA requires companies to make reasonable accommodations for workers with handicaps. It also protects applicants and workers with disabilities from discrimination. The ADA states that weight and stature, within standard parameters, aren't impairments. Nevertheless, some courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) found that obesity might qualify as a handicap.
If, for example, an employee or applicant has an inherent physical disability resulting in obesity (including diabetes), the worker may be shielded from discrimination. However, it is the worker's responsibility to establish that she or he had a handicap as defined by the ADA.
The EEOC has said that "serious" obesity, defined as a weight more than twice the standard, is an impairment that may be a handicap. The worker would need to reveal how obesity substantially limits major life activities. These life activities include work.
What to Do In Cases of Weight Discrimination
When an employer discriminates against obesity, they may be breaking laws that forbid other kinds of discrimination. Obesity rates vary widely by sex and race. For example, data in the Centers for Disease Control show that African Americans have a greater rate of obesity than non-Latino white Americans. A company's policy of refusing to hire applicants who are fat could mean they are screening disproportionate numbers of African Americans out. This can be discriminatory.
Get Legal Help
Consult a seasoned employment law attorney if you believe you were refused a job or discriminated against because of your weight. An attorney can help you evaluate the situation and figure out whether any legal protections apply in your case. Call Sean A. Casey, Esq. today for a consultation at (412) 201-9090.