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Obesity and discrimination - changes include coverage under ADA

It is no secret that many Americans, including thousands in Colorado, have problems with their weight. According to a recent article, there was about a 50 percent increase in the obesity rate in America from 1997 to 2012. For some, extra pounds are viewed as an incentive to exercise, "get into shape" and work the pounds off. For others, obesity is a major concern in their lives, a concern that simply cannot be solved with a renewed focus on eating healthy and exercising.

For employers and employees alike, obesity can be a factor in the workplace. For years employees with weight issues may have been subjected to discrimination from their employer, or perhaps even outright berated because of their weight. But, over time, the medical understanding of obesity, similar to alcoholism, has shifted from classifying this issue as a condition to classifying it as a disease.

This shift, most notably seen in the American Medical Association's recent moves to re-classify obesity over the summer, will most likely have a major impact in the workplace. If obesity is now viewed as a disease, there is little doubt that people who suffer from obesity will now be covered by the Americans with Disabilities Act - and this "disease" will be treated as a disability.

The ADA brought major improvements in the employer-employee relationships of innumerable companies and government entities throughout the company. In the years since the ADA was enacted individuals with disabilities have seen less discrimination and more acceptance on the part of employers, especially in those who are willing to make accommodations for an employee's disability. However, the changing view of obesity may make waves among employers who do not view obesity as a disability in the same light as, say, someone who is paralyzed from the waist down. But still, the law is the law, and employers will need to adjust their attitudes accordingly.

Source: Portland Press Herald, "Obesity in the workplace becomes a bigger deal," Diane Stafford, July 28, 2013

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