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Should obesity be considered a disability?

Some of our Colorado readers may remember a previous post from a few weeks ago addressing the rising concern of whether or not an employee's weight could become a factor in employment decisions. The possibility of an employee suffering from what is becoming known as "weight discrimination" has become more common. About 36 percent of adults in this country are considered obese, and that number is expected to rise.

Only in recent years did courts begin to recognize weight discrimination. This year, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission settled to two lawsuits.

More work is needed to tackle weight discrimination. However, even though the EEOC and some courts recognize obesity as a disability, some people who suffer from obesity do not want to be labeled as "disabled" in order to pursue a claim. They dislike the idea because many of them do not feel they are disabled simply because of their weight. They would rather pursue amendments to existing laws which prohibit employment discrimination based on factors such as race or gender. Inclusion under these types of employment laws could be another potential avenue to ensure that a person's height or weight characteristics cannot be used in key employment situations.

However, there are people who have a different opinion on the matter. Some people do not believe obesity should be considered a disability, instead insisting that people who are overweight have made a conscious choice to lead their lives a certain way.

Whichever side of the debate wins out, it is clear that attorneys, courts, employers and employees will be hashing out this issue in the coming years. Every court victory for those suffering from weight discrimination is more and more likely to sway legislatures into enacting changes to existing laws.

Source: The Huffington Post, "Obesity Discrimination On The Job Provokes Dispute Over Best Remedy," Christina Wilkie, Oct. 4, 2012

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