Overweight employees: Protected by Adult Disability Act?

On Behalf of | Aug 23, 2013 | Workplace Discrimination

The American Medical Association passed Resolution 420 in June of this year. This officially recognizes obesity as a disease plaguing more than one-third of Americans. There are several nuances of “obesity,” including morbid obesity, or those individuals who are more than 100 pounds of their ideal body weight; or persons whose body mass index is a value greater than 39. These delineations are now under ADA protection.

Resolution 420 is noteworthy not just due to the attention of the American Medical Association, but has also become an important issue among health insurance companies. Research on the disease presents a collection of data concluding obesity as a serious condition with metabolic and hormonal implications. There is no doubt that these new parameters will have far-reaching legal repercussions in the workplace

It is now important for employers and human resource personnel to be aware that the medical definition of obesity can include those individuals who are as little as 30 lbs overweight. In many cases the bottom line will be relevant to whether an obese individual is hindered from performing the requisite behaviors of the job. An overweight individual suffering from another disorder such as thyroid or other physiological conditions would be included under the legal definition of disabled.

Court decisions have been consistent with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s stand that obesity is not just cause for wrongful termination, especially when one’s weight is within normal range. Many employers who question whether an obese worker is capable of performing specific job duties, may use this as a basis for taking discriminatory action against the individual. Under the law, this is a violation of the employee’s rights and therefore illegal. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has reported multiple cases of disability settlements and compensation for the plaintiff. Subsequent claims will be considered with the newly-instated Resolution 420.

If you or someone you know have been subjected to workplace discrimination or wrongful termination due to weight issues, this is illegal. With the new legislation, it is recommended that you speak to a specialist in employment law to protect and understand your rights on the job.

law.com, “Should Employers Consider Obesity a Disability?” Keith A. Markel, Wendy M. Fiel, Aug. 20, 2013

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