Weight discrimination in the workplace is common. Studies have found being overweight can affect every aspect of an employee’s work life – including hiring and firing decisions, promotions, pay and disciplinary actions.
Weight discrimination is especially problematic for women. A study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology claims ‘very heavy’ women make between $9,000 and $19,000 less than thinner women. A Michigan State University study from 2007 discovered women are 16 times more likely to report workplace discrimination than men. Perhaps the greatest fear heavier workers have is whether they can be fired for being overweight.
Is it illegal to fire workers for being overweight? In San Francisco, it is illegal to fire workers based on the way they look. Here in Los Angeles and throughout the rest of California, no such law exists. However, there are still circumstances where firing overweight workers is illegal.
When is Weight Discrimination in the Workplace Illegal?
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed lawsuits against workplaces for firing morbidly obese workers over their weight. These lawsuits imply the EEOC, under some circumstances, views morbid obesity as a disability under the Americans with Disability Act (ADA). A disability is a “condition that substantially limits a major life activity.” Workers who meet these standards and who work for companies with at least 15 employees may have legal protections against discriminatory job termination.
Obesity itself may cause additional disabilities which are also covered under the ADA. In addition, workers who became obese due to health conditions or medications may also have protections. In these cases, the proper term would be ‘disability discrimination’ and not weight discrimination.
Weight discrimination can also be sex discrimination in disguise. If an employer holds women to different weight standards than men, overweight workers might have a case.
Workers who are undergoing treatment for conditions related to their weight may also be protected thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act. For example, if you have a doctor’s appointment to treat high blood pressure or sleep apnea.
Depending on the circumstances, an overweight worker may have a workplace discrimination case. By contacting an attorney, workers can explore legal options for holding employers accountable.
The Los Angeles employment law attorneys at Kesluk, Silverstein, Jacob & Morrison, P.C. can help workers determine whether they have a wrongful termination case.