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Fattist Employers Need to Work Things Out

By Dietitian, Juliette Kellow BSc RD

A new survey has confirmed what many overweight people have thought for years – that obese people are far more likely to be disadvantaged in the workplace.

The survey, undertaken by website Personnel Today, interviewed more than 2,000 human resources (HR) professionals. Worryingly, the results showed that obese people are discriminated against when applying for jobs, are passed over for promotion and are more likely to be made redundant – all purely on the basis of their weight.

In particular, 93% of HR professionals would choose a ‘normal weight’ applicant over an obese applicant with the same experience and qualifications. Meanwhile, around a third of HR professionals believe obesity is a valid medical reason for not employing a person and 15% agree they would be less likely to promote an obese employee. Of even greater concern, is the fact that 10% thought they could dismiss an employee because of their size, something that is in clear contravention of employment law.

WLR says

WLR doesn’t believe in any form of discrimination and is shocked by these results. We checked out the Personnel Today website for their advice on how to tackle fattism in the workplace. In response to the survey, a feature on their website sets the record straight for employers – and gives you, as an employee, an idea of your rights. If you feel you’ve been discriminated against because of your size, we suggest you tackle the issue. Here’s a brief lowdown taken from the Personnel Today website…

  • In the vast majority of cases, it’s illegal for employers to dismiss staff because they are overweight.
  • Unfortunately, there’s no specific protection against ‘fattism’, as is the case for other forms of discrimination in the workplace such as racism or sexism. This means obese employees need to rely on various existing employment rights to claim protection against unfair treatment at work related to their size.
  • An employer cannot simply dismiss you because of your size – he or she must prove it has an impact on the business. Dismissal because of a person’s weight must fall within one of the potentially fair reasons in the Employment Rights Act 1996: conduct, capability, redundancy, breach of statutory duty or “some other substantial reason”.
  • Capability is the most obvious reason where obesity may affect a person’s ability to work. For example, a flight attendant who is too large to walk along the aisle of an aeroplane may be incapable of performing their job.
  • Obesity as a matter of misconduct would, in practice, only apply to a tiny percentage of workers, for example, in the performing arts or modelling.
  • If an employee’s obesity hinders their ability to perform their job, they may be able to claim under the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 (DDA), which, if successful, could result in costly uncapped compensation for financial loss and an award for injury to feelings. The DDA defines disability as “a physical or mental impairment, which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on an individual’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities”. While some conditions such as alcoholism, are specifically excluded from protection, obesity is not, so it could fall within the definition. In any event, obesity can be caused by or lead to a number of conditions such as depression, diabetes or arthritis, which may themselves attract protection under the DDA.

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