Legal Discrimination

Legal Discrimination

As we head into the holiday season (I’m counting Halloween as the kickoff!) be aware that the weight many of us put on at this time can have serious career consequences. Gaining weight at work is common—it can be a blessing or a curse if you have a coworker who loves to bake! In a survey conducted by careerbuilder.com, 49% of office workers said they had gained weight at their current jobs, and 28% of those had piled on more than 10 pounds.

Although it is often subtle, weight discrimination is alive and well in business (and probably personal) situations. It may show up as feedback regarding your appearance (“You need to appear more professional”) or vague reasons why you aren’t getting promoted—for example, plum assignments going to less qualified peers with no other obvious reason why. I’m not suggesting you become paranoid, just understand that there may be reasons, unrelated to your work performance, that explain your situation.

Weight-based discrimination is, by and large, perfectly legal. Michigan is the only state that has a law explicitly prohibiting employers from discriminating against employees on the basis of weight, and a few cities around the country have similar measures. Federal laws prohibit discrimination based on other protected classes—such as age, gender, race, religion and disability—but not weight, and individuals who attempt to bring lawsuits under the Americans With Disabilities Act must show their weight is a disability, which is certainly not always the case (in 2009 the ADA was expanded to include “severe obesity” as a covered disability). 

Regardless of why you’re overweight, it’s likely that you have been stigmatized. It isn’t fair but it may be a likely consequence. Weight loss can be good for your health and your career.

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