Overweight workers face bias in hiring

Bias toward overweight workers is especially strong in hiring, according to recent studies, which found that overweight applicants with the same qualifications often suffer from negative stereotypes and are perceived as unfit for jobs involving face-to-face interactions.  The current emphasis on wellness and lifestyles in the ongoing health care reform discussion may be contributing to even greater bias against overweight job seekers, because they are now perceived as likely to have health problems.

Prospective employers did not hesitate to say that good health and appearance were needed to land the jobs that Andrea Mucci Bjorklund, 35, was applying for at a job fair in Michigan, the only state to have laws protecting workers against weight-related discrimination. When Bjorklund, who went from 130 pounds in her 20s to 260 pounds after years of night school, bad eating and little exercise, did not receive an offer, she said that her weight was to blame, according to workforce.com. “I never experienced this kind of turn-away when I was less experienced and thinner. I think there is some discrimination against me being heavy, though it could all be perception.”
The Cleveland Clinic’s CEO, Toby Cosgrove, a frequent speaker on health care reform, raised the issue of Americans for Disabilities Act (ADA) protection for obese workers in a recent Wall Street Journal conversation.  Cosgrove said that the clinic doesn’t hire smokers — part of its effort to “walk the talk” about healthy lifestyles.  But apparently finding obesity a comparable lifestyle issue, he said that “it would be illegal to apply a similar standard to people who are obese, because they’re protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). I can’t decide that I’m not going to hire somebody because they’re 400 pounds,” he said. “We don’t hire smokers, and that’s perfectly legal.” 
There is no federal law that protects a worker against discrimination based on obesity. Morbid obesity is considered a disability under provisions of the ADA when it “substantially limits a major life activity, substantially limited a major life activity in the past, or is regarded as substantially limiting,” the Journal article reports. Morbid obesity is defined as being twice the normal weight for a given height.
In his study of bias against overweight and obese employees at Wayne State University in Detroit, doctoral candidate Cort Rudolph found that “a lot of [negative stereotypes] transfer into the workplace in terms of people’s judgment about others’ abilities and appearance in relation to job performance,” ehstoday.com reports. But Rudolph found that these stereotypes were more likely to affect individuals when they were applying for a job and “less likely to affect overweight employees during performance evaluations or when under consideration for promotions. The bias is stronger, however, when the job entails frequent face-to-face interaction with customers or others.”
Common stereotypes cited in Rudolf’s study included laziness, sloppiness and a lack of self-discipline and control. He also found that employers are more likely to believe that overweight workers have increased health problems.  
A brief published in 2009 by the Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy and Obesity and based on numerous studies found similar stereotypes. The Rudd study also found some discrimination among those already employed and cited a source that said that some companies are planning to penalize employees for being overweight through company benefits programs. 
The Rudd Center is active in recommending a tax on sugary soft drinks.

You may like these other stories...

Individuals interested in reviewing the proposed 2015 US Generally Accepted Accounting Principles (GAAP) taxonomy from the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) have until October 31 to submit their written comments....
Ernst & Young 2013 audit deficiency rate 49%, regulators sayMichael Rapoport of the Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday that the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB) found deficiencies in 28 of the...
PwC must face $1 billion lawsuit over MF Global adviceA federal judge on Wednesday ordered PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) to face a $1 billion lawsuit claiming that its bad accounting advice was a substantial cause of the...

Already a member? log in here.

Upcoming CPE Webinars

Sep 9
In this session we'll discuss the types of technologies and their uses in a small accounting firm office.
Sep 10
Transfer your knowledge and experience to prepare your team for the challenges and opportunities of an accounting career.
Sep 11
This webcast will include discussions of commonly-applicable Clarified Auditing Standards for audits of non-public, non-governmental entities.
Sep 24
In this jam-packed presentation Excel expert David Ringstrom, CPA will give you a crash-course in creating spreadsheet-based dashboards. A dashboard condenses large amounts of data into a compact space, yet enables the end user to easily drill down into details when warranted.