Are overweight workers being discriminated against in Wisconsin?

Here in Milwaukee, and throughout the country, people are protected from workplace discrimination based upon a number of things. These include race, age, disability, sex, pregnancy, nationality and religion, among others. However, Wisconsin residents may be surprised about something for which they can be discriminated against: their weight.

Weight discrimination is becoming a problem in a number of workplaces as Americans are becoming heavier. In fact, 35.7 percent of adults in this country are now considered obese. Some employers are discriminating against overweight people in the workplace and in hiring, and when it comes to the law, this is somewhat of a gray area.

Only one state has outlawed discrimination on the basis of weight, although a few towns and cities around the nation have done so, too. On the national level, weight discrimination is not technically illegal. However, those who are considered morbidly obese do have protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act.

In 2011, morbid obesity–a classification for those who weigh more than twice the recommended amount for their height–was listed as a disability in the ADA. While this has added an employment protection for many workers in Wisconsin and throughout the country, some advocates say obesity should not be described as a disability, and instead height and weight should be added to the list of federally protected classes–alongside, race, age, sex, etc.

Many employment law professionals would like the courts or legislators to provide some guidance on weight discrimination.

Back in April, the first morbid obesity discrimination claim made its way to a settlement. In that case, the general counsel for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission made a statement that emphasized the need for employers not to base employment decisions on “stereotypes, myths, and biases.”

Although weight discrimination is a relatively uncharted employment law area, those who have been discriminated against because of their weight may still benefit from seeking legal counsel. An experienced employment law attorney may be able to resolve the case in the most suitable way possible.

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

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