Weight Discrimination in the Workplace

24 Jul by HPA/LiveWell Eating Disorder Treatment

Discrimination exists in a variety of different forms. Weight discrimination in the workplace is one of the most under-identified, but also most common forms of discrimination. Research suggests that it not only does it exist in the employment sector, but it is also not fully protected by employment law. Furthermore, according to a recent Harvard study, public unconscious bias against race and sexual orientation has decreased over time, however, implicit bias against overweight people has increased.

Obesity has become a significant health problem in the United States, and other Western Countries, particularly over the last couple of decades. The National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES) has produced data which shows that 17% of children in the U.S. qualify as obese, and 74% of adults fall between the range of overweight and obese. If you are concerned about unhealthy eating patterns for you or a loved one, then we at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY can help.

Weight Discrimination Definition

Discrimination means to treat an individual unfairly because of who they are, or certain characteristics that they possess. Weight discrimination refers to the unequal treatment of people purely associated with their weight. It is not to be confused with weight stigma or bias, which is concerned solely with negative attitudes towards people who are overweight but does not include negative actions.

If you have been treated unfavorably at work due to your weight, then you may have been a victim of weight discrimination in the workplace. This form of discrimination is also more likely to effect women in the workplace, as women face harsher criticism based on appearance than men.

Weight Discrimination Examples

Weight discrimination is distinct from negative attitudes towards weight, and specifically refers to treatment which could be considered unjust or unethical. Negative behaviors or inequitable treatment, which is directed towards someone overweight but without justifiable cause, is weight discrimination.

Weight discrimination can be direct or indirect. Direct discrimination is when a person that is overweight is treated less favorably than others in the workplace. For example, a person who is overweight but is qualified for a job and is not subsequently hired because of their weight may have been a victim of weight discrimination. Furthermore, a person who is overweight and has been denied promotions or has been fired from their job because of their weight may have been a victim of direct weight discrimination in the workplace. Indirect weight discrimination could be in the form of a rule or a policy in the workplace which puts an overweight person at a disadvantage in comparison to others.

Weight Discrimination Laws

Federal law prohibits the termination of an employee’s contract based on their race, color, age, gender, religion, natural origin, for filing a harassment suit, reporting unsafe company behavior, taking medical leave, or on the basis of having a disability. Yet, despite research demonstrating that negative attitudes are having an impact on how overweight people are treated in the workplace, weight discrimination in the workplace is still legal in forty-nine states. So far, Michigan is the only state which has passed legislation that protects people who are overweight in the workplace.

Essentially, this means that due to the long-recognized practice of at-will employment and termination of employment, anyone who is overweight may be fired due to weight discrimination in the workplace. This sets a dangerous precedent, one in which the court system permits employers to body shame their employees. Furthermore, based on the fact that women report more incidents of weight discrimination in the workplace, it reinforces the cultural ideation that women are valued more on how they look, than they are for their skill set.

Due to the serious health problems associated with being overweight or obese, if you are looking to make changes in your lifestyle, then we at HPA/LiveWell can advise you through making these alterations.

Furthermore, if you are interested in learning about the mental health services provided at HPA/LiveWell in Albany, NY contact us at 518-218-1188.