Avoiding ADA liability when dealing with obese workers

Employers must be cautious as new cases and anti-discrimination laws develop

Obesity is often cited as causing a national health crisis, with 35.7 percent of U.S. adults fitting into a category associated with elevated risk of heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain forms of cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It also is creating a crisis for employers, who must balance concerns that severely overweight people are more likely to get injured, miss work and drive up group health insurance premiums against the risk of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

Defining Obesity

The EEOC clearly prohibits discrimination against the morbidly obese, but it leaves the door open for less severely obese people to qualify for ADA protection under certain circumstances.

Caution Advised

Employment lawyers say the evolving position of the federal courts, along with the possibility of more state and local laws protecting the obese (see “Local Laws”), require employers to be aware of the implications of taking adverse employment actions against obese employees or job applicants—even if they aren’t morbidly obese.

Senior Editor

Mary Swanton

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