According to the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), roughly 41.9% of adults are obese in the United States, the highest in history. Employees that are obese can be unfairly stereotyped. And while studies have shown that obese employees have increased health care costs and lost productivity for employers, not all obese employees can control their weight by a simple diet and exercise routine change. Some have underlying health conditions.
So, is obesity a disability and do employees have any protection under The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)? In some states, it is recognized as a disability. In most states, it is not, unless there is an underlying health concern.
The Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA protects job applicants and employees with disabilities from discrimination, harassment and retaliation. The ADA defines a person with a disability as a person who has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activity. Most federal courts have held that obesity is not an impairment under the ADA unless there is evidence of an underlying physiological disorder or condition, such as diabetes.
There are, however, a few state and federal courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and some municipalities, including New York City, that have recognized obesity as a disability under anti-discrimination laws. If you live in any of these areas, speak with an employment attorney.
If you do not live in any of those areas mentioned above, obesity is not a disability under the ADA, unless there is an underlying physiological disorder or condition. The ADA defines a disability as someone who:
- has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities (i.e. eating, walking, cognitive function, communicating, bodily operations, etc.),
- has a history or record of such an impairment (such as cancer that is in remission), or
- is perceived by others as having such an impairment (such as a person who has scars from a severe burn).
The ADA does not list every disability. They do, however, provide some examples:
- Post-traumatic stress disorder
- Cerebral palsy
- Deafness or hearing loss
- Blindness or low vision
- Mobility disabilities such as those requiring the use of a wheelchair, walker, or cane
- Intellectual disabilities
- Major depressive disorder
- Traumatic brain injury
This means every situation is different and should be looked at on a case to case basis. If you are obese and feel that you have an impairment that limits a major life activity, you may be protected under the ADA. If this is the case, you should speak with an employment attorney.
Sum It Up
- Obesity is not recognized as a disability under the ADA in the vast majority of states.
- Some courts in Texas, Louisiana, and Mississippi, and some municipalities, including New York City, have recognized obesity as a disability. If you live in one of these areas, speak with an employment attorney.
- If you are obese and have an underlying health condition that substantially limits a major life activity, you may be covered under the ADA. Speak with an employment attorney.
Disclaimer: This article is intended for informational purposes only. It provides general information and is not intended and should not be construed as professional advice. The author is not your attorney, accountant, financial planner or any other professional and no professional-client relationship is created. We do not represent that the information provided is accurate or up-to-date as laws and regulations are always changing. If you have an issue that requires professional help, you should contact the appropriate professional to help you on your specific set of facts. Please read the Terms and Conditions for additional information.