Why employers are firing workers who are too obese

Why employers are firing workers who are too obese

Employers have a duty to offer employees every chance to be fit and healthy but, increasingly, they are having to stop offering wellbeing opportunities and start firing.

An example of this was seen earlier this year in Egypt. TV presenters who were deemed to be overweight were suspended for a month and told to shift the pounds.

This problem is particularly worse in Australia, the Daily Mail and Herald Sun reports, where two out of three residents are now overweight. As a result, firms are claiming that heavy workers are causing workplace injuries, illnesses and an increased risk to businesses.  

Andrew Douglas, Principal – Workplace Relations at Macpherson Kelley, told Herald Sun that his law firm deals with a weight-related case every single week, with most cases being settled outside of court.

Examples of cases handled include an overweight healthcare employee who was dismissed because they could not bend down to conduct treatments; a fired obese truck driver, who also suffered from weight-related spontaneous soft tissue and bone injuries, who refused to partake in a health plan recommended by his employer; and a travelling salesman who managed to keep his job after losing weight and undergoing sleep therapy for sleep apnoea and uncontrolled blood pressure that was linked to his weight.   

In the UK being overweight or obese is not a prohibited ground of discrimination in UK law, or in the law of the European Union, according to Tamara Hervey, Professor of European Union Law at Sheffield University.

She continues: “People of non-ideal weight (overweight or severely underweight) are subjected to discrimination, in the workplace and elsewhere, based on attitudinal assumptions and negative inferences... such as that they are insufficiently self-motivated to make good employees.

This situation leaves a gap in the law which is remediable only by legislative reform.

"The implication of our even investigating this is that as a minimum it is an important national discussion to have.

"If you think that discrimination is wrong, that making assumptions about individuals on the basis of their membership of groups is wrong ... then logically yes, my view is there is a case for doing that."

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