Will AMA decision give more protection to obese workers?

It is nearly impossible to read the news these days and not see an article relating to the growing problem of obesity in America. Whatever the cause - be it genetics, lifestyle or limited access to healthy foots - there is no question that being significantly overweight contributes to a significant number of short- and long-term health consequences.

With one out of every three Americans now meeting the medical criteria for obesity, the American Medical Association decided to change the way it classifies obesity. In June 2013, the AMA adopted a new policy that recognizes obesity as a disease in and of itself. Their hope is that this reclassification would spur doctors to provide more conscientious care to obese patients and patients with obesity-related conditions like high blood pressure or Type 2 diabetes.

Some employment law attorneys think the AMA's reclassification could lead to changes in the law, as well. According to a recent story in the trade journal Human Resource Executive, a number of attorneys are questioning whether the classification of obesity as a disease might result in obese workers being granted protection under state or federal anti-discrimination law. For example, a judge might rule that obesity qualifies as a disability that is protected under existing law. Or, a legislature might decide to pass a law that specifically protects workers based on their weight.

Michigan weight discrimination laws

It will likely be some time before progress is made on this issue. However, in Michigan, workers do not have to wait. Michigan is the only state in the country whose employment laws specifically prohibit discrimination based on a person's height or weight.

This means that employers cannot take any adverse action against an employee or job applicant on the basis of his or her height or weight. Some of the actions that are prohibited include the following:

  • Refusing to hire
  • Refusing to promote
  • Terminating employment without just cause
  • Paying the person less money than a similarly situated person performing the same work
  • Denying training opportunities
  • Not allowing the person to join a labor organization
  • Forcing the person to leave a labor organization

An exception to this rule exists if a person's height or weight is a bona fide job qualification. For example, an employer could refuse to hire an applicant on the basis of his or her weight if the job involved using equipment that had a weight limit and reasonable accommodations could not be made.

If you have experienced employment discrimination on the basis of your height, weight or any other protected characteristic, it is important to take action to protect your rights. An experienced Michigan employment law attorney can review your case and help you understand your options.