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California Employment Lawyers > Blog > Employment > Weight, Obesity And Size Discrimination In The Workplace

Weight, Obesity And Size Discrimination In The Workplace


Body acceptance and body positivity have become a large part of our culture. But despite the changes in attitude and the inclusion of people of all sizes in the media and in entertainment, employment law has lagged behind when it comes to protection for those who may have larger body types than the average person.

Laws Protecting Obese Employees

There is currently no federal law prohibiting discrimination in the workplace based on weight or size. Some cities and jurisdictions have enacted restrictions on size discrimination, but that largely will depend on the city you are in; there is no statewide law that prohibits discrimination. Cities like San Francisco and Santa Cruz do currently prohibit size or weight discrimination, but only in the workplace.

Other Forms of Discrimination That Attach to Obesity

Note that just because the city you live in may allow weight discrimination at work, someone could have other disabilities, related to weight, which are considered protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) or California Fair Employment and Housing Act.

For example, someone with knee problems, or shortness of breath, or thyroid conditions, diabetes, or other conditions that require reasonable accommodations at work, all of which may be related to, or which may cause, or which may be caused by obesity, may need to be accommodated.

Obesity (and any other protected disability) must restrict what is known as a “major life activity” to require accommodations at work.

Although under federal law a disability needs to “substantially limit” a major life activity, under California law, the disability only needs to “limit” the major life activity, which makes obesity-related discrimination claims based on disability a bit easier for California employees.

Can Obesity Be the Disability?

Can obesity itself be a disability that warrants accommodations at work? Most California courts have said that it can, but only when the obesity is caused by some other medical ailment.

So, someone born overweight would not be protected from discrimination at work because of size or weight. But someone who may be overweight because of a thyroid condition, may be entitled to workplace accommodations based on obesity.

Racial and Gender Discrimination

There may also be discrimination on the basis of gender or race, which is unrelated to weight, but which references weight or size.

For example, imagine that an overweight woman was getting made fun of at work, while her overweight male colleagues were not. Although on the surface this may sound like weight discrimination, an argument can be made that due to the different treatment of men and women in the same situation (both being overweight), the discrimination is actually based on sex or gender, not on weight.

Often, comments or degradation on weight are accompanied by racial, ethnic, or gender-based insults. So, a woman who is both called overweight, and called a derogatory term for a woman, could have a legal claim for gender discrimination.

Contact the San Jose employment lawyers at the Costanzo Law Firm today for help if you feel you are being discriminated against at work because of your size or weight.




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