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Can employers legally discriminate against overweight employees?

On Behalf of | Oct 20, 2021 | Employee Rights, Employment Law for Employers |

More than 99 million adults are overweight and 70 million are obese in the United States, according to data from the CDC. Researchers have found that overweight and obese Americans often face discrimination in employment.

Is it illegal for employers to discriminate based on weight?

Existing New York law

Currently, there is no federal or state law that explicitly bans discrimination based on weight. However, New York’s Human Rights Law does prohibit discrimination based on disability. Some employees have successfully pursued litigation based on a claim that discrimination against them because of their weight constituted discrimination based on disability. However, obesity is not universally recognized as a disease or disability.

Proposed legislation

A pair of New York City councilmen have proposed legislation to specifically make discrimination based on weight or height illegal. The potential legislation mirrors that passed in San Francisco, Michigan, Washington D.C. and Buffalo. If passed, the legislation would make it possible for people who believe their employer discriminated against them based on height or weight to file a claim with the city Human Rights Commission.

The councilmen indicated that the law may make exceptions for employers who can demonstrate that a person’s weight or height makes them unable to perform a task even with reasonable accommodations.

Without specific federal legislation, cities and states must make their own determination about when or if discrimination based on weight is illegal. If New York City were to pass specific legislation, the state may choose to do the same, but there is no guarantee.