Can Obesity Get You Fired?

Wednesday, May 01, 2013

When I read about this in the Chicago Tribune I was taken aback. The article's subtitle was " Morbid obesity, regardless of the cause, is increasingly viewed by courts as a disability, especially in regards to workplace discrimination lawsuits."

The test case was about a woman who weighed 527 pounds and stood 5-foot-2 inches. She might look like this image.

She believed her employer was discriminating against her because of her weight and took them to court over it. In a groundbreaking ruling the court sided with her saying that severe obesity may quality as a disability, regardless of the cause.

Unfortunately she died in 2011 at the age of 48. While the debated raged on over who was disabled by weight, the courts increasingly sided with the plaintiffs. Blame or causation, in fact, should not be considered in weight-related discrimination.

Obesity, which is increasingly being recognized as a disease, can be both a cause and a consequence of disability. Research shows that increased body weight is associated with an increase of becoming more disabled.

Once you hit the threshold of "morbidly obese", the court would likely find in favor of your case. A morbidly obese adult is at least 100 pounds over a healthy weight and has a body mass index over 40.

"Morbid obesity is a chronic, nearly impossible to treat with exercise and diet alone~bariatric surgery is the only viable option and it can interfere with bending over to get into a car. Other conditions can include hypertension, low back pain, diabetes, arthritis, heart disease, endocrine disorder , sleep apnea and depression." (taken from the article, not necessarily my opinion)

In the US, nearly 36 percent of adults are classified as obese in 2012. Now 6.6 percent or 15.5 million are morbidly obese. Though obesity rates are generally flattening, morbid obesity is increasing at a very fast pace which is kicking it over to the disability side.

The Americans with Disabilities Act, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on disability was amended in 2009, making it easier for a morbidly obese individual to qualify as being disabled. So which way can you turn?

For most disabilities the courts will have to deal with many unanswered questions. They will want to know if someone has a physical or mental impairment and, if so, whether that impairment limits a major life activity. One woman who weighed 400 pounds was hired to oversee a state program. Her condition made it hard for her to walk and she filed for disability in the work place.

The Montana Supreme Court, citing that woman's case, held that obesity alone, without any underlying condition, constitutes an impairment. This is very important because in many cases the cause of the plaintiff's morbid obesity would be impossible to prove.

This is the law that covers morbid obesity discrimination in the work place and is a step in the right direction if you feel it applies to you.

Of course you may be morbidly obese and not be able to work because of impairment. In this case, it would be proper grooming and the inability to take appropriate naps.

Your investigative reporter~Jessica
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Member Comments About This Blog Post
    I think that obesity is a treatable disease. I would agree to accommodation in the workplace only as long as they showed that they were following treatment. This way, more poor people would be able to get their obestity treated because insurance would assist with diet and exercise programs and, where indicated, surgery.

    Someone who is obese who is not taking steps to combat their disease would have less sympathy from me. Yes, I was obese for DECADES and I know very well how hard it is to get going. I also know that having a diagnosis of a disease and being told that they can only get help if they are actively working on helping themselves would be exactly the kick start many obese people need to do something about it.
    1571 days ago
    Gotta agree with MORTICIAADDAMS, she said it so well. I have to be Grumpy Gus again on this issue. I am now retired, but the best nurse I ever worked with was morbidly obese and managed to do the work of three people just because she cared so much. Sadly, she died, way too young, this February and the hospital and the world lost a treasure much too soon. However, being more truthful than politically correct, I must say that a lot of our obese employees were rather worthless. They took much sick time, sat around complaining of the heat and fatigue while other employees did their work, demanded special accommodations, and were always complaining of back pain, knee pain, foot pain, chest pain, breathing problems, and wrangling for disability. Although I hate the idea of rewarding dysfunctional behavior, I must admit that putting them on disability was better than paying them to do nothing and taking up a spot that needed to be filled by a functioning employee. Removing them from the hospital payroll was a great boon to the patients and other staff since we did not have a large enough staff to accommodate people who weren't willing or able to hold up their end of their paid-for responsibilities. Were they disabled like someone with MS or paralyzed in a wreck, no, but neither did most of them do what they were being paid to do.
    1587 days ago
    I am morbidly obese and have lost 70 pounds-40 with SP. So many out there suffer with the problem, be it a disease or just eating themselves to it or by not moving! I was one of those eating and not moving enough. I think the courts should term it as a disability, especially when it is termed a disease or a person can prove it is from an underlying cause.
    We were talking at the pharmacy today with the pharmacist about obesity and exercise. His wife is a P.E. Teacher for middle school and how it is a shame how much children cannot or will not exercise. She makes sure at the beginning of each week to have them run a mile and in 15 min. She said, you would be surprised at how many can't and still can't later on down the road.
    Going on the beautiful bike trails lately, they are pretty much empty even after school times are over...what a shame. You don't even see parents bring kids to the parks much anymore. Everyone is interested in TV, Computers or games and eating!
    Thanks for the blog, as always emoticon emoticon emoticon
    1628 days ago
  • SHARON10002
    Once again, Jessica, - food for thought. (no pun intended) I have a cousin who is morbidly obese, and she has tried everything in her lifetime to lose weight, but to no avail. She is scheduled for bariatric surgery for this month, as she feels this is the only hope for her. She has taken a pro-active stance in acknowledging that this seems is the last hope for her to attain a healthy body and lifestyle. I applaud her, her courage, and I do indeed wish her much success!
    1629 days ago
  • 68ANNE
    It is a very interesting subject. Many large people are discriminated against in all areas not just work. An extremely touchy area, hum, requires more thought.
    1630 days ago
  • BRENDA_G50
    emoticon for posting this. I found it very interesting. emoticon

    1630 days ago
  • SAMI199
    These are such grey areas-both emotionally & physiologically-research is finding so much more about how the body works in terms of weight gain. As with any other condition,my main concern is that we remember there are no "one size fits all" answers-and to make judgments about a person's abilities solely based on size has to be done on a individual basis. There seems to be a rush to blame the obese person-but there is so much more to this than just eating donuts.Thanks for your reporting & let's all pass that Spark.

    emoticon emoticon

    1630 days ago
    Interesting. It gives you something to think about. I personally don't think it is a disability.
    1631 days ago
    ability or disability starts in the mindset of the affected individual. I have fostered a child since her birth- she was premature, in hard drug withdrawal, seizing on a regular basis, given a very poor prognosis- when she was placed with us the neonatoloogist cautioned that it was not anticipated that she would develop much beyond a functional level of a 2 yr old. we raised her to believe in herself, to try, and try again if she failed the first time.. fast torward 15 years- she is holding her own in a regular grade 9 program and has an incredible can-do attitude, she has learned that life isn't easy, but all things are possible if you try. academically she will never be an Einstein, but she has a functional foundation that will carry her through life.. Emotionally she is so much stronger because she has learned that just living is hard work, but worth every breath. Her disabilty is hidden from view, for the obese, they can not hide- but should obesity be worn as a badge of honor that brings special privileges? I don't believe someone should be fired because they are obese, but Ido think there are underlying values and attitudes in some obese individuals that make them poor employees. before anyone yells at me- I have always worked and have actively worked myself out of the morbidly obese category- now I am simply obese-and within reach of being just overweight------looking forward to being at a healthy weight thanks to SP
    1631 days ago
    very interesting thank you
    1631 days ago
    So many addictions are viewed as a matter of choice. It's YOUR choice to use drugs, it's your choice to use alcohol, it's your choice to gamble, it's your choice to overeat. But IS IT?? Physiologically there are so many imbalances in the body that can be involved in overeating and obesity.

    But it's like helping the alcoholic, the drug abuser or the gambler. First of all THEY have to want the help. BUT if they do, there should be help for them. Same with obesity!

    I am ever so grateful for SP, because it literally saved my life. And so many others! I took MY admission that food was a problem in order to seek the help.

    This is a fantastic blog. I appreciate it.

    1632 days ago
    It raises all kinds of questions for me and sets off alarms. I am ambivalent about this. I have worked with morbidly obese people and some were able to do their jobs and others weren't. I don't think that an employer should have to keep a person on who isn't able to do their job nor should they be required to make expensive accommodations to adjust so that they can do their job. To me obesity is not like race or gender or even age. You don't chose your race or gender or your age. There is not much you can do to change them other than a sex change operation but people can lose weight, either through diet, exercise, or surgery. We are becoming a country of disabled individuals. People who obviously are not disabled are being labeled as such due to sloppy requirements. As a nurse I see this everyday as I watch "handicapped" people park in their spaces, jump out of their cars, and bound into the store like gazelles. My mom and grandmother were genuinely handicapped. Non-weight bearing. In wheelchairs. Not because of a lifestyle choice but due to debilitating disease. Rather than giving someone a label and encouraging and rewarding them for being obese we need to be giving them incentives to lose weight.
    1632 days ago

    Comment edited on: 5/1/2013 9:40:44 PM
    1632 days ago
    Very interesting blog. Thanks for posting it.

    Hopefully at some time in the future insurance will help cover weight loss. It always burned me that my insurance company will allow $300.00 a year to help quit smoking, but nothing towards weight loss. I am so glad I found SparkPeople!
    1632 days ago
    I just pray for many of obesity people to get whatever the help or motivation they need to become healthy one day at time for their health and well being.
    1632 days ago
  • DARLY55
    I'm sure it is very hard to lose weight at this stage of obesity. But, here on Sparks there are people who have done just that! Calories in- calories out, it is no secret.
    I know overeating can be an addiction, and addictions are considered a disease, maybe this is their justification.
    1632 days ago
    Very interesting blog Jessica thank you for putting it together. Unfortunately my daughter fits in that morbidly obese category to where she can file for disability. I was getting her active and she was losing weight then she found love and stopped being active and gained it all back again :(
    1632 days ago
  • HOLLYM48
    Interesting blog. Thanks for sharing. emoticon emoticon
    1632 days ago
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