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Is weight discrimination in the workplace against the law?

West Virginia employment lawyer

An experienced West Virginia workplace discrimination attorney explains

Many forms of discrimination are against the law, including workplace discrimination based on someone’s race, gender, religion, disability, age or another protected class. What if someone is overweight? Can a company discriminate against an employee based on how much they weigh? Or is that against the law?

The answer is more complicated than you might think. That’s why it’s important to understand the law and how it applies to workers who are considered overweight based on universally recognized health standards.

What is weight discrimination?

Discrimination based on someone’s weight often applies to situations in which someone is considered obese. One of the most common standards used to define whether someone is obese or overweight is based on a person’s body mass index, or BMI.

Someone’s BMI is calculated based on the amount of body fat based compared to somebody’s height and weight. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute defines someone as “overweight” if they have a BMI of 25 to 29.9. Someone with a BMI of 30 or greater is considered “obese” by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Like other forms of workplace discrimination, some employers discriminate in many different ways based on someone’s weight, including:

  • Not hiring someone based on their weight
  • Wrongful termination
  • Not promoting an employee
  • Demoting an employee based on their weight

Is weight discrimination protected by the ADA?

The Americans with Disability Act (ADA) contains many provisions which provide legal protections for many different people. This includes protecting individuals against discrimination based on someone’s race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, age (over 40 years old) and disability.

The ADA does not include specific provisions that protect someone based on their weight. However, some states – including Michigan – have laws which protect against discrimination based on someone’s weight.

In addition, some obese Americans nationwide may be protected by the ADA in certain circumstances. In particular, if an employee has a disability that results in their being obese, employers cannot discriminate against them based on their disability. Underlying medical conditions which may result in someone being obese may include:

  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Genetic disorders
  • Endocrine system disorders

In addition, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has defined “severe obesity” as a disability. The EEOC defines severe obesity as someone being more than twice their normal weight. As a result, the EEOC has said that employers cannot discriminate against someone who is considered severely obese.

Can I take legal action for weight discrimination in the workplace?

You may be able to file a workplace discrimination lawsuit or take other legal action. It is important to discuss your potential legal case with an experienced workplace discrimination lawyer as soon as possible. Each workplace discrimination case is different and has its own unique circumstances. That’s why our attorneys at Klie Law Offices want to meet with you. We handle workplace discrimination cases throughout West Virginia and Ohio. Contact us to schedule an appointment with one of our attorneys.

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