Obesity’s Disease Label Could Spell Trouble for Employers

Download Email
In the News

Obesity’s Disease Label Could Spell Trouble for Employers

Reported in Employee Benefit News

EBN spoke to Jay Starkman, CEO of Engage PEO, about the AMA classification of obesity and how it might affect employer decisions

 

The American Medical Association has deemed obesity a disease. AMA board member Patrice Harris, M.D., said in a statement that "recognizing obesity as a disease will help change the way the medical community tackles this complex issue that affects approximately one in three Americans."

While there is still debate within the medical community as to whether obesity is a disease — the AMA’s own House of Delegates recommended the body not adopt the resolution declaring it a disease — there is speculation the AMA’s decision could open the door to more discrimination claims under the American with Disabilities Act..

What are the implications for employers?

Employers need to treat obese individuals like they would anybody else with a disability. … There was always an issue about whether or not an obese person was disabled under the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines. [Under the] ADA, "disability" is defined as an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity. … but there was always a question about whether or not obesity was one of those things.

One of the issues that existed for a long time was whether or not there needed to be some type of underlying disorder that caused the obesity, whether psychological or physical. By classifying obesity as a disease, it’s pretty clear that whether or not there’s an underlying disorder isn’t going to be a relevant inquiry any more. So that means that employers can’t make hiring decisions — hiring, firing, promotions, raises, compensation — based upon whether or not someone is obese.

Do employers need to consider any changes to their current employee policies?

The first is make sure you have very clear job descriptions — before hiring — that lay out any physical requirements of a position. The second thing is, if somebody is disabled, [because of] obesity or whatever, if it is possible to make a reasonable accommodation for them, that needs to be done.

What else might be important for employers to know?

The definition of "obese" is really in flux right now. A lot of the EEOC cases that existed prior to the AMA coming out with this defined it as "severely" obese or "morbidly" obese. … So nobody is sure what will constitute a disability, because the number of people that are 20% overweight in America is far different than the one for people that are double the standard weight. So I just think that it needs to be a very serious concern in people’s minds.

In the News

Spotlight on workplace sexual harassment: How employers can prepare in 2019

Now more than ever, business owners need to know how to handle sexual allegations that may arise in the workplace.

The spotlight on this issue is harsh but presents a glowing opportunity for companies to do better. Employers can reinforce HR best practices that are in place, and take the lead to create new ways to ensure workplaces are free of harassment and unlawful discrimination. The time to do so is right now.

Engage CEO Jay Starkman, and co-founder Midge Seltzer, write for Employee Benefit News.

In the News

Company Holiday Party? In the Era of #MeToo, Exercise...Caution

You don’t have to take all the fun out of your workplace celebrations, but as a business owner, you must be responsible and practical.

The fact is, the potential problems posed by hosting social events in the workplace are not new, but they are amplified in today’s climate of heightened awareness.

Engage CEO, Jay Starkman, writes for Entrepreneur magazine.

Learn More

Strategic Partners

Learn more about our many strategic partners ready to help elevate and engage your business.

See full list here

The Expect More Philosophy

We expect more, and so should you!

Learn more