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The Unspoken Discrimination in the Workplace (Part 1)

What if you were not hired because of your appearance? Or, what if you were looked over for a promotion because you were not considered appealing by societal standards? The is the unspoken or silent discrimination that happens in the workplace, also know as weight or obesity discrimination. A surprising fact, this sort of discrimination is still legal in nearly all parts of the world. However, for now we will stick to the United States of America. In the US, characteristics including race, gender, religion, and sexual orientation and identity or protected classes under law. Employers are prohibited from discriminatory employment practices when it comes to these protected classes. However, with a few tiny exceptions, this is not the case for weight.

Would you believe me if I told you that 49 states have no laws of any kind prohibiting weight discrimination? So which state does have a law, well that would be Michigan! Additionally, Washington DC, San Francisco, Madison (WC), and

Binghamton (NY) are the few cities that have implemented an appearance law that prohibits employers from any hiring and employment discrimination practices. I took on the research of this topic because I have seen this type of discrimination against an employee. I noticed the difference in treatment of those that are of “normal weight” and “overweight”.

This type of discrimination may happen openly or behind the scenes. With no law in place for employees, it is hard to file any sort of claim in court. The only argument a person may have is if it is considered a disability, then you get into the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). This act covers individuals with a disability from discrimination. However, obesity alone is not a disability. There are different bills circulating in various states to classify weight in the same categories that are covered in Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. This act prohibits discrimination against race, gender, color, religion, sexual orientation, and nationality. I believe protection should be covered under State and Federal law. Appearance does not stop a person from exceling in their work; therefore, employers should not hold a bias against anyone that is identified as being overweight.

It is unfortunate that a person’s conscious or unconscious bias can negatively impact an obese worker’s experience. Individuals that are deemed obese are overlooked and judged. A 2008 study completed by Rebecca Puhl revealed that overweight job applicants are viewed as being less conscientiousness, less agreeable, less emotionally stable, and less extraverted than their ‘normal-weight’ counterparts (Yu, 2022). Additionally, because these practices and ideas are in place it causes exclusion for obese workers in areas such as promotions, recognition, special projects, and client-facing work. Imagine how mentally draining this is for an employee. A person can be the most productive or considered the subject-matter expert for their department, but because of their weight opportunities are not available to them. To help combat this bias organizations can create a culture that

is more inclusive. An organization can help change the narrative by ensuring policies and practices are in place that prevent this sort of discrimination. Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion initiatives should create an experience in which all members of the organization are treated and seen fairly. In a series of blog posts, I will discuss the legal ramifications around weight discrimination, the negative impact it has on employees and solutions organizations can implement to eliminate obesity bias.

Have you ever witnessed or experienced weight discrimination?

Yu, A. (2022). The Unspoken Weight-Discrimination Problem at Work. BBC. Retrieved on November 20, 2022 from,

The Unspoken Discrimination in the Workplace (Part 1) © 2022 by Tameka Lockhart-Spann is licensed under CC BY 4.0

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