Most workplace discrimination issues involve protected classes detailed in federal law like race, disability, gender, age and religion. Some states include additional classes like sexual orientation and gender identity.
Michigan is the only state that makes it illegal to discriminate against employees and applicants based on their weight as well as height. This law dates back to 1976. In a country where almost 40% of the population is classified as overweight, that protection may be welcome. However, one person’s idea of what’s too heavy (or too thin) may differ significantly from someone else’s.
The more people weigh, the more discrimination they report experiencing
An article published in the journal Obesity Reviews looked at a number of studies, mostly in the U.S., that asked people about their experiences with discrimination based on their weight – specifically because they were overweight or obese. Overall, almost 20% of people whose body mass index (BMI) put them in the overweight category reported experiencing discrimination. That increased to almost 42% for those who were obese.
While the discrimination explored in the studies wasn’t specific to the workplace, that is certainly where people generally spend most of their time – and where discrimination can affect your ability to earn a living.
Cultural expectations seemed to play a role also. For example, women were more likely to report weight discrimination than men – potentially because women’s bodies tend to be judged more harshly than men’s. Interestingly, white people reported more weight discrimination than African-Americans. It was postulated that this could be because of racial differences around attitudes about weight.
Of course, no matter what an individual employer or manager’s attitude about weight is, they can’t legally make employment decisions around it if someone is able to do the job or assume that someone is unhealthy because of their weight.
If you believe you’re facing weight discrimination, it’s important to document it and address it with management or your human resources department. If that doesn’t resolve the issue, it may be wise to get legal guidance.