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The evolution of obesity discrimination in the workplace

Over the past several decades, American employment law has evolved in a variety of ways. On both the federal and state levels, employment law has become increasingly inclusive and has protected a growing number of Americans. Laws protecting specific classes of Americans date back decades. Under these laws, employers may not generally discriminate in the hiring, promotion, payment or firing of individuals based on their race, religion, gender and other classifications.

However, it is important to understand that current employment law does not protect against all forms of discrimination. And simply because discriminating against someone due to a particular factor seems wrong does not necessarily mean that such behavior is illegal.

For example, employment discrimination law in the U.S. does not currently prohibit workplace discrimination against obese individuals because of their obesity. This kind of discrimination may be morally wrong, but is not technically illegal. However, it is worth noting that this may change in the future.

Late last year, the Court of Justice of the European Union helpd that while EU employment law does not currently prohibit obesity-related discrimination in the workplace specifically, obese individuals are protected against discrimination due to disability if their obesity hinders “full and effective participation of that person in professional life on an equal basis with other workers.

This kind of logic could soon be embraced by American courts and ultimately extend to obese American workers. Employment law in the U.S. continues to evolve at a rapid pace and it is certainly possible that obesity discrimination protections could become part of that evolution.

Source: Reuters, “Obesity can be deemed a disability at work: EU court,” Julia Fioretti, Dec. 18, 2014

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