Obesity Discrimination on the Job

Obesity discrimination can be a truly horrible sight. It's unkind, ignorant, and incredibly insensitive. It may even extend to employment opportunities, and it's management's job to put an end to any form of this discrimination.

Forms of discrimination, issues and management responsibilities

Obesity is a recognized, and often potentially serious, medical condition. An obese person has enough problems without workplace discrimination. This discrimination can be insidious, and isn't always recognized.

These are some indicators of the types and levels of discrimination which usually slip under the radar:

  • Isolation: The obese person is socially isolated. The contacts with other staff are brief, often terse.
  • Irritability on the part of the obese person: The negative reaction from the victim of the discrimination is frequently translated into negative behavior, characterized by extreme irritability, or actual hostility.
  • Targeting, directly or indirectly: The office "wit" is rarely far away with some remark about size, food, or other form of "humor". This is usually an ongoing sniping campaign.
  • Absenteeism: Although the medical situation may also cause absence, avoiding the flak in the office is another reason.
  • Actual conflicts in the workplace: The targeted obese person may get into regular clashes with other staff. This may seem highly out of character, and the person will appear frustrated, with good reason.
  • Supervisor neglect: The issues become more aggravated, as the situation deteriorates with no intervention from local managers. The result is a progressive escalation of the degrees of seriousness of issues in the workplace.

Dealing with obesity discrimination

This type of harassment of individuals is particularly destructive.  Many serious incidents in US workplaces have been caused by systematic targeting of employees. Some of these incidents have resulted in some very tragic incidents including large numbers of deaths, suicides, and shootings.

The only effective way of shutting down obesity discrimination is to single out offenders and make it clear that this disgusting behavior won't be tolerated. The employer has the right of "Employment at will", and that right can be exercised fully against anyone who doesn't toe the line on discriminatory behavior.

To lay down the law, employers can easily instruct staff appropriately. A general notice may be issued to all staff as a formal instruction.

All staff are informed that: 

  • Any teasing, harassment or other provocation of other staff members is not permitted.
  • Management reserves the right to decide what it considers unacceptable behavior in any situation.
  • Any breach of the instructions may result in immediate dismissal without notice.
  • Dismissals made under these conditions will also result in a contested claim for unemployment insurance on the basis of dismissal for improper conduct. (Which is covered by issue of the notice to staff.) 
  • Management may refer any relevant matters to police.

This hard line approach will get through to most people, but it's advisable to make sure that the primary offenders are left in no doubt of management's intentions. A senior management should conduct a staff meeting, and go through the issues, point by point. Even the office "wit" will figure out the employer means business.

Getting rid of the kind of people who have the time and energy to spare in the workplace to make life so miserable for their colleagues is no great loss to employers. Fighting obesity discrimination can be a great way of improving productivity, by firing the offenders and getting people who will do their jobs properly.