Saturday, October 28, 2006

Are you discriminating against obese applicants?

Like height or attractiveness, weight is one of the least-talked-about-but-most-common-judgments that get made about people that impact hiring decisions.

A recent
article discussing the sixth circuit decision in EEOC v. Watkins points out that although the circuit courts are split on the idea of weight being protected under ADA, there are two practical tips every U.S. employer should follow:

1. Remember that even if being overweight or obese isn't protected under the ADA (e.g., because the plaintiff is unable to show it has a physiological cause), being PERCEIVED as disabled is. And we
know that this is the most commonly claimed violation under ADA.

2. Being overweight or obese may be related to another underlying physical condition, so don't assume simply because someone is heavy that you don't have to accommodate them or you are free to discriminate against them.

And I would like to add one of my own:

3. Don't forget about other laws, such as state discrimination laws. Some states (e.g., California) have laws that are broader (for the applicant) than the ADA.

Lessons? Don't make assumptions about what people can and can't do. If you have doubts, ask: "Are you able to perform the essential functions of this job with or without reasonable accommodation?" and ask it of ALL candidates. Or, have each candidate do some type of work sample exercise. And of course make sure the essential functions of the job have been identified and communicated to applicants.

Like all criterion used in making hiring decisions, your decision should come back to: Is it job-related?

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