Can Employees Sue for Harassment About Their Weight?

A New Jersey Employment Lawyer Discusses Employment Law

A former New Jersey resort employee is suing his ex-employer for discrimination against him based on his weight. According to the claim, the employee was made fun of by his bosses because of his weight. The employee in the case, at 300 pounds, could be classified as morbidly obese. The distinction between overweight and morbidly obese is important, as there are legal implications to each.

If you’ve watched the news recently, you probably know that obesity rates in America rose steadily within the last few decades and that we are now experiencing what some may call an “obesity epidemic”. Along with this rise in obesity has been an increase in people calling out so-called “fat-shaming” in the workplace and society as a whole. So, you might be surprised then to learn that there are actually no protections for employees who face discrimination simply based on their weight. However, there is one exception for those who are considered severely or morbidly obese.

In 2008, Congress amended the Americans with Disabilities Act to include additional protections, such as protections for those who are morbidly obese. Under the amended act, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission characterizes morbid obesity as a disability when it significantly impairs the ability to do any of the following:

  • Walk
  • Stand
  • Stoop
  • Kneel
  • Breathe

When obesity is determined to be severe enough to be a disability, employers can be held accountable for discrimination or harassment against that individual. However, before victims alleging workplace weight discrimination or harassment can pursue a claim, the court has to decide whether to allow them to bring litigation against their employer. In the case of the New Jersey man who alleges discrimination by his employer, it remains to be seen if the courts will decide that his case constitutes discrimination based on a disability.

What Qualifies as Harassment in the Workplace?

As you can see, the law regarding harassment and discrimination based around weight is still murky. Moving forward, it would be advisable for employers to consider the consequences of making decisions based on an employee’s weight or making comments that could be construed as harassment. The bottom line is that no one should be made to feel uncomfortable doing their work or have their job interfered with because of another person’s words or actions.

If you have experienced harassment or discrimination in the workplace but are unsure if you have grounds for a lawsuit, an experienced New Jersey employment lawyer may be able to help you.