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Sterling Employment Law

Do we need obesity-specific anti-discrimination laws?

By now, we hope that Detroit readers understand that a workplace cannot discriminate on the basis of sex, race, ability/disability or religion. Those are pretty firmly set "protected classes," meaning demographics that courts and lawmakers have realized are sometimes discriminated against and so have expressly said such conduct is not okay.

But there are other classes of people that are not "protected classes." One of the most interesting of such demographics is obese people.

Now, obesity is a health problem, so an argument could be made that we need to discourage it. And obese people tend to cost employers more in terms of healthcare coverage because of conditions linked to being overweight, like diabetes and heart disease. But is it right for employers to discriminate against obese people?

Here in Michigan, it isn't, thanks to the Elliot-Larsen Civil Rights Act, which makes it illegal to hire, fire, or discriminate against in terms of promotions, compensation or terms of employment because of weight.

Even so, the Elliot-Larsen Act is not the easiest of laws to apply, and Michigan is the only state with such a law. In other words, 49 states have no law specifically addressing employment and obesity discrimination. (Six cities do, though, including San Francisco and Madison, Wisconsin.)

What do you think? Are laws banning employment discrimination on the basis of weight necessary, or is that being oversensitive? Please keep in mind no one would say it's okay to mock or humiliate obese people; we're speaking here about laws specifically protecting them in the workplace.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "Will the imposition of weight restrictions in the workplace present a hefty problem for employers under the ADA?" Julie I. Ungerman and Jennifer N. Jones, Sept. 21, 2012

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