The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination in employment on the basis of disability, including “morbid obesity.” However, outside of this condition, the ADA’s protections do not extend to employees who allege that they have been discriminated against based on their weight. In recent years, activists opposed to such discrimination have pushed for the adoption of new laws to add weight to the list of protected categories under state and local employment discrimination laws.
Currently, several states and municipalities are considering such proposals. These include measures introduced in Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York State, and New York City. These laws would ban discrimination on the basis of weight in hiring, employee benefits, and other terms and conditions of employment. Some of these proposals include exceptions if the employer can demonstrate that a weight restriction is necessary to safely and effectively perform the job.
These types of legislative efforts tend to come in waves, meaning that adoption by one state encourages similar measures in others. Even without a specific law in their jurisdictions, employers may want to consider including weight and appearance in general in their employee anti-discrimination training.