There’s no doubt that generally speaking, Americans are becoming heavier. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that over 40% of us are obese. Despite that, people still often have to deal with weight discrimination. Sometimes this is based on nothing more than long-held stereotypes that people who are overweight are unmotivated and unhealthy.
Now, thanks to legislation passed by the New York City Council and signed by Mayor Eric Adams, discrimination based on weight (and height) – both actual and perceived — will be illegal in employment as well as housing and public accommodations. The law takes effect, perhaps ironically, just before Thanksgiving this year.
This is part of a larger trend by local and state governments to add physical characteristics like weight and height to the list of protected characteristics like race, gender, age, disability and sexual orientation. The council person who sponsored the legislation says he hopes it will aid in “changing the culture in how we think about weight.” State lawmakers in New York and New Jersey are currently considering similar legislation.
Some exceptions are allowed in the law
The New York City law does make exceptions when there’s a “bona fide occupational” reason for denying someone employment due to weight or height. There are also exceptions when someone’s size presents a public safety concern.
It’s important to note that employers will still be allowed to offer incentives for employees to join weight management programs as part of a larger employee wellness program. Of course, these incentives should never be directed at specific employees.
After the law takes effect, the NYC Commission on Human Rights will investigate complaints from those who suffer weight discrimination in the areas covered under the law. Proving weight discrimination in the workplace, like any kind of discrimination, can sometimes be challenging unless a manager has specifically referenced it as the reason for denying employment, a promotion or other opportunity or they’ve been harassed for their weight. If you can’t resolve an issue of discrimination with your employer, seeking legal guidance can help you better assess your options.