Overweight people face bias in many areas of the working world, from job interviews to performance evaluations. For example, studies have found that if two job applicants have identical qualifications, the one who is overweight is more likely to be rated negatively and less likely to be hired.
Other research has found that overweight employees are viewed as lazy, sloppy, undisciplined, disagreeable, less competent and conscientious, and as poor role models. Research also shows that overweight workers are paid less for the same jobs, are more likely to have lower paying jobs, and are less likely to get promoted than thin people with the same qualifications. In a Rudd Center study of more than 2,400 overweight and obese adults, 54 percent reported that they had been stigmatized by co-workers because of their weight. Forty-three percent said they had experienced weight bias from employers and supervisors.
Legal cases documenting weight-based discrimination in employment settings continue to surface. Unfortunately, no federal laws prohibit weight discrimination, and only a few states offer any protection to obese employees. However, attitudes are beginning to shift. The perception that an overweight person cannot be an appropriate representative of a company's image has been challenged in the courts. A few years ago, an aerobics instructor in California sued Jazzercise for terminating her because she did not fit their desired image. She won her case, and Jazzercise has since changed its criteria for instructors.
The Rudd Center co-hosted a webinar on employers instituting financial penalties to employees based due to their BMI.