Michigan is still the only state in the country where weight is a protected characteristic. Under the law, which was enacted back in 1976, employers cannot discriminate on the basis of a person’s weight (as well as height and age). Age is now a protected class under federal law.
Some cities across the country, such as San Francisco, have enacted similar laws. So far, however, no other state has.
Nevertheless. even with the law, some Michigan employers still have been accused of weight discrimination. In 2010, two women accused a Hooters restaurant in Roseville of requiring them to lose weight or face termination. While the company denied the specific threat, it claimed that “our practice of upholding an image standard based on appearance, attitude and fitness for Hooters girls is both legal and fair.”
Most people favor more laws like Michigan’s
A recent study funded by the weight-loss giant WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers) found that some 40% of those surveyed feel they’ve been discriminated against or at least stigmatized because of their weight. The study also found strong support (57%) for making weight a protected category in anti-discrimination laws. Respondents showed even stronger support for greater anti-bullying efforts around weight.
While weight discrimination is often associated with people who are overweight, the law doesn’t specify that – and with good reason. A person who manages a business that happens to be large may be more comfortable around others who are their size and find reasons not to hire or try to keep around those who are thin.
Proving workplace discrimination based on weight – like discrimination based on any other protected status – can be challenging. Actions like refusing to promote, demoting or terminating employees are often accompanied by workplace harassment based on an employee’s protected characteristics like race, national origin, age, religion or disability. Further, it rarely happens to just one person, but is a pattern experienced by multiple employees.
If you believe that you have been the victim of weight discrimination in the workplace, it’s best to first address your concerns with your manager or human resources. If you’re getting nowhere with that or you have been terminated, it may be wise to find out what legal options you may be able to pursue.