Employers can fire you, or even refuse to hire you because you are obese. It’s unfair, but it’s not illegal.
Most people believe that in our “sue happy” country you can sue for anything at anytime. But the reality is that discrimination is only illegal when it’s for certain things, like race, religion, age, sex, etc. Without this you have no case. If any of this happens to you, you can take legal action against the employer. The difference is that lawmakers and courts have decided that it’s against public policy to allow discrimination based on those categories (race, religion, etc.). There are arguments that obesity should be protected too as a disability, but that hasn’t held up.
Some employers actually have formal policies that say you can’t work for them if you fit a certain profile. I just read about a hospital in Texas that says you can’t work for them if your BMI (body mass index, based on height and weight) is above a certain number. It might be morally wrong (or not), but it’s not illegal. And once you take out any emotion that you’d feel if you got fired for being overweight, it’s simply a question of is this legal or illegal. If it’s not illegal it’s not a case.
Aside from the legal aspect, it just seems awkward to measure BMI at a job interview. The Texas hospital is probably missing out on some great potential employees with excellent healthcare skills, but legally that doesn’t matter. Some employers argue that they discriminate in order to hire healthy employees. The hospital in Texas comes right out and says it. They want to have a “healthy” image. At least they’re being honest. BMI is a pretty basic calculation and doesn’t necessarily determine whether you are in good health, so presumably it’s about appearance. They say they are doing this to cater to their patients. Really? I’d rather have an excellent nurse than a thin one.
The other side to all this is that even if it was illegal, you can’t go after an employer unless you can prove it. Most aren’t as blunt about being fatists as the hospital is. The reality is that employers are going to hire and fire whomever they want, regardless of what discrimination law says. It happens all the time. They’ll fire someone because of their race but say it’s because they came in late; or they’ll fire someone who is overweight and claim they weren’t performing enough or in the right way. The law can only go so far in protecting people from discrimination and if you don’t have actual evidence of illegal activity you are out of luck.
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