U.S. Capital

Obesity is Considered a Disability

Jul 10, 2014

Chicago, IL (Law Firm Newswire) July 10, 2014 – In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) changed the characterization of disability. Workers no longer need to prove they suffer from a physiological disorder and may claim obesity itself as a disability.

“Obesity was thought to be a choice at one time and overweight individuals needed to prove they had a thyroid condition, diabetes or an underlying physiological disorder to claim disability. The Act was changed in 2008 by the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA) broadening the definition of ‘major life activities’ and substantially limits relating to how obesity affected an individual,” explains Timothy Coffey, a knowledgeable Chicago employment attorney.

Since the definitions were broadened in scope, the courts and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have broadened the interpretation of when obesity is considered to be a disability. Obesity without other conditions in play affects an individual’s daily life by physically impairing the person and making walking, transportation, bending and lifting extremely difficult, if not impossible.

Consider an EEOC discrimination case, EEOC v. BAE Systems, settled in 2012, involving a morbidly obese forklift driver. The man’s on-the-job performance was highly rated but the employer would not pay to install extra seat belt webbing for his forklift. He was terminated. At the time of his termination he weighed 680 pounds and his employer felt he could not perform his job duties properly due to his weight. Although the worker asked to be transferred to another position or for other reasonable accommodations, his requests were denied.

Commenting on that case, the EEOC stated: “The law protects morbidly obese employees and applicants from being subject to discrimination because of their obesity.” Just prior to the EEOC v. BAE Systems case being settled, Montana’s Supreme Court handed down a ruling that said even if obesity is not as a result of an underlying physiological issue, such obesity is considered “an impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.”

Workers do not need to prove why they are obese, because any type of obesity, from simple to morbid, is impairment as it stands. Simple obesity has a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 30-34.9. Severe obesity is 35-39.9 and morbid obesity is having a BMI of 40 or over. “It does not matter why an individual is overweight and employers and workers need to be aware of the law in this area. All management decisions from hiring to accommodation policies for disabilities are applicable for overweight and/or obese workers,” adds Coffey.

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