Issue: Overweight employees cost you more in health care costs, and new research proves it. But you can't discriminate against them.
Risk: More courts are saying that obesity is a protected disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).
Action: Tell managers to ignore applicants' weight, unless it could prevent a candidate from performing the job's essential functions.
A new University of Michigan study quantifies what many companies already know: Overweight and obese employees cost more, as much as $1,500 each annually, to insure. (Costs are also higher for underweight workers.)
Still, you can't discriminate against obese people in hiring, firing, pay or promotions. While no federal law specifically outlaws such bias, more courts in recent years have allowed employees to claim obesity as an ADA-protected disability.
Recent case: A 420-pound man was verbally offered a cook's job at a McDonald's, but was told not to start work until a custom-made uniform arrived. The man was never called back and, after several months, he filed an ADA lawsuit, claiming that McDonald's didn't hire him because its managers considered him morbidly obese and, therefore, unable to perform the job.
McDonald's argued that obesity isn't covered under ADA. The court disagreed, saying that McDonald's perceived him to be disabled because of his weight, so he did qualify under ADA. (Conner v. McDonald's Restaurant, Conn. Sup. Ct. 2003)
Lesson: Other courts have ruled that you shouldn't simply assume a candidate can't perform the job's essential functions; you must test the person in the job or secure a doctor's opinion.
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