Weight discrimination at work is a legal issue in which an employer shows negative bias to workers or prospective employees who are overweight. It includes employers who won't hire overweight workers, who hire overweight workers only in specific circumstances, or who pass over qualified overweight workers for promotions and pay increases.

Currently, only a few districts in the United States have specific laws against weight discrimination at work.

Defining weight discrimination at work

Legislation specifically addressing weight discrimination at work exists in only four municipalities in the United States: the state of Michigan, the District of Columbia, and the cities of San Francisco and Santa Cruz , California. In the rest of the country, weight discrimination at work is most often argued as a form of disability discrimination and is protected by the Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA). However, ADA is vague as to which overweight people are protected and which are not. It is widely accepted that ADA protects morbidly obese people (those whose body weight is at least 100 percent higher than the average) and people with obesity caused by a psychological disorder from weight discrimination at work.

Common categories of weight discrimination claims

Weight discrimination at work is commonly claimed in the following situations:

  • When the obesity is caused by or related to a health condition, such as heart disease, diabetes, or high blood pressure. This may be protected under the ADA, regardless of the degree of obesity.

  • When gender discrimination is involved. Weight discrimination at work is often coupled with gender discrimination, where an overweight man is given more leeway than an overweight woman. Many studies show that overweight women are more likely to be victims of weight discrimination at work, and that discrimination against overweight women starts at a lower rate of their obesity.

Weight discrimination at work is commonly based on stereotypes, such as an employer assuming that an overweight person is lazy or a poor performer, even when the employee shows he or she is capable.

If you think you are a victim of weight discrimination at work

If you feel you are a victim of weight discrimination at work, you may contact an employment attorney to discuss your options. Provide as much hard evidence as possible, and show that being overweight did not affect your ability to do your job. Document specific instances where weight discrimination in your workplace occurred.

Michigan, San Francisco, Santa Cruz and Washington, DC, include weight as criteria for employment discrimination. If you do not work in these regions, your attorney will have to link the weight discrimination to other legislation, such as Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, or the ADA.

Additional Resources:

Council on Size and Weight Discrimination: Laws, ordinances, and cases involving weight discrimination at work

EEOC: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964

ADA.gov: The Americans with Disabilities Act