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News

Workplace Discrimination Based on Weight  Persists

By:
S.J. Steinhardt
Published Date:
Jul 26, 2023

GettyImages-executive-office-1065050352

Weight seems to be a pervasive form of employment discrimination, The Wall Street Journal reported.

Studies have proven links between weight, wages and promotions, and heavier people are often stereotyped as lazy and undisciplined. Surveys conducted by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that an applicant’s weight is a factor in hiring decisions and in office interactions.

That may change. New York City added weight and height to the list of characteristics protected from discrimination, along with race, gender, age, religion and sexual orientation. New Jersey and Massachusetts have introduced similar bills, while Michigan already prohibits employment discrimination on the basis of weight.

In the absences of such laws, weight discrimination cases rarely succeed, according to the Journal. Most courts have held that obesity isn’t a disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which protects job candidates and employees from discrimination, harassment or retaliation because of a disability.

Nearly two-thirds of employers have not addressed weight-related stereotyping or bias with their employees, according to SHRM.

“It wasn’t on my radar,” said Jonathan Mildenhall, co-founder and chair of global brand consulting firm TwentyFirstCenturyBrand, who told the Journal that his company and its corporate clients will have to give the issue more attention. Employers may also need to reconsider workplace weight-loss challenges or other programs and benefits, including reimbursement for drugs such as Ozempic, he said.

Employees perceived as overweight may face additional difficulties when aspiring to climb management ranks, some executives told the Journal, as corporate leaders such as Jeff Bezos and Mark Zuckerberg display their physiques online. Former IBM CEO Ginni Rometty recounted in her memoir that a boss suggested that losing weight would help her career.

Plus-size fashion models and extended clothing sizes over during the past 10 years played a role in initiating the recent weight-discrimination legislation, the Journal reported. But it noted that treatments such as Ozempic and Wegovy may lead some people to conclude obesity is a choice if losing weight is a matter of taking a drug.

Leith Wolf, managing partner of recruiting firm Murray Resources in Houston, told the Journal that he has never heard a corporate client cite a job candidate’s weight for deciding against him or her. But, he said, “You can just kind of look at who actually is hired for certain roles.”

Remote work has helped those whose appearance may work against them. Tech-product design director Michelle Matthews suffered the slights of co-workers commenting on her eating habits and her weight. After switching to remote work in 2020, she didn’t worry as much about what to wear or her physical presence. When on-screen, she angled the camera in ways that flattered or played down her figure.  

She found a new job in 2021. “The course of my career really changed when I went remote,” she told the Journal.