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Employment Blog

Obesity is a Disability?

Authored by Dean R. Dietrich
Posted on March 21, 2014
Filed under Employment

A number of activities over the past several months have suggested that obesity is on its way to being considered a disability and therefore protected under federal discrimination laws and possibly the Wisconsin Fair Employment Act. No decision has been made holding that obesity is a disability under Wisconsin law, but several things at the federal level may change that view.

First, the American Medical Association has recognized obesity as a disease in its new publication of the comprehensive list of diseases. (See prior Blog regarding caffeine addiction as a new disease). Further, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has withdrawn its prior guidance which held that obesity at less than the morbid level was generally not considered a disability. No guidance from the EEOC has been issued to replace this conclusion which raises a concern that EEOC may modify its position on the characterization of obesity as a protected disability.

Concerns have also been raised about wellness programs that deal directly with obesity as perhaps falling under disability discrimination coverage. Employers must be careful not to directly target employees that would be considered obese or fail to consider medical treatment as a type of participation in the wellness program for those suffering from this condition.

Simply stated, there is a change in the wind that may affect how we view obesity and whether it is considered a disabling condition under federal and possibly state law. Employers that have implemented a wellness program should be careful how that program is implemented and make sure that it does not create undue conditions for individuals that may be considered obese.