Issues Abound as Obese Workers Are Protected from Discrimination

The Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in 2011 to reflect that morbidly obese employees are not allowed to be discriminated against in the workplace. Morbid obesity, in this case, is defined as a person being at least 100 percent heavier than their healthy weight range given their height.

Since then, there have been multiple lawsuits brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that deal with obese workers who faced mistreatment because of their weight.

Discrimination is, sadly, all too common for obese employees who have their work, effort and all-around performance questioned (or judged) because of their weight. It can even lead to unfair job requirements -- like having to lose a certain amount of weight to keep a job.

However, the issue is more complicated than it seems. There are some groups that are some people who believe that labeling obesity as a disability only covers up a larger problem -- that some people are overweight because of choice.

"Having been heavy myself, I don't think [obesity] should be protected as a disability at work," said a man who used to weigh 450 pounds and has now cut his weight in half. "I think being overweight is a personal choice, and if you get to the point where it's a disability, you need to address whatever is causing you to eat so much."

It's an interesting point, and with the U.S. obesity problem already at epidemic levels (35.7 percent of the U.S. population is currently overweight, and the number is rising) there are surely some people who are obese "by choice" (i.e. they have unhealthy lifestyles). At the same time, some obese people have very serious health problems that contribute to (or even exacerbate) their weight gain.

A complicated issue, yes -- but that doesn't mean employers have the right to treat obese workers unfairly. There's an even murkier area to the modification of the ADA law: what about people who are "overweight" but not "morbidly obese?" They aren't granted the same protections by the ADA, but they often can be subjected to the same mistreatment as a morbidly obese person.

Source: Huffington Post, "Obesity Discrimination On The Job Provokes Dispute Over Best Remedy," Christina Wilkie, Oct. 4, 2012