Weight Bias at Workon a National Scale

LEGAL UPDATE: Shifting Paradigms: Battling Weight Bias at Work on a National Scale

by | August 24, 2023

Over the last two decades, obesity levels in the United States have been on the rise along with a growing concern of discrimination based on weight in the workplace. As a result, states and local governments are starting to take action.

In May of this year, New York City Mayor Eric Adams signed into law a bill that expands the city’s anti-discrimination laws by adding an individual’s weight and height to the list of characteristics that are protected from discrimination. The new law becomes effective in November 2023 and applies to employment, housing, and public accommodations.  

Why it matters

The law in New York is just one example of a growing national movement to address weight discrimination in the workplace, with state lawmakers in Massachusetts and New Jersey considering similar legislation and other states and cities that already prohibit it. Michigan and Washington State already prohibit it, as do some cities such as San Francisco, Washington D.C., and Madison, Wisconsin. 

In 2019, the Washington Supreme Court ruled that obesity always qualifies as an impairment under the Washington Law Against Discrimination. In Washington, it is therefore illegal for employers to refuse to hire qualified potential employees because the employer perceives them to be obese. With this ruling, employers in Washington are liable for any adverse hiring or employment decision because the individual either is or is perceived to be obese.  Additionally, employers in Washington must ensure to make reasonable accommodations for employees who have obesity.

Guidance for Washington Employers

With this growing trend around the country and in Washington, employers are strongly encouraged to develop hiring policies that promote an inclusive workplace for workers of all sizes. In addition, employers should:

  • Review job descriptions to ensure they are not screening out candidates based on BMI (or other factors related to obesity)
  • Review and revise anti-discrimination policies, employee handbooks, and annual anti-discrimination training to reflect that obesity is now a protected class under Washington law.
  • Not take any adverse action against an employee because the employee has obesity.
  • Consult with an attorney before using any medical questionnaires or physical examinations at the hiring stage.

Are you ready? Contact us to review the implications for your business and make a plan