While popular culture continues to perpetuate the notion that “fit” is preferable to “fat,” few people are aware that it’s legal in 49 states including Massachusetts to terminate a person for the unforgivable sin of packing a few extra pounds.
Most states adhere to a long-recognized practice that allow employers to fire employees for any reason they want: at-will employment. This long-standing doctrine recognizes that employment is voluntary and indefinite for both employers and employees – and can be terminated at any time for any reason by either party.
There are, of course, exceptions to this rule. Massachusetts law prohibits employers from firing employees on the basis of race, color, age, gender, religion or natural origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability. Additionally, employers cannot fire employees for filing a discrimination or harassment suit, reporting the company’s illegal or unsafe practices or taking family medical leave.
Massachusetts anti-discrimination laws provide little to no protection for overweight employees – even though there’s plenty of evidence that weight discrimination is a real phenomenon.
A 2008 study conducted by researchers at Yale University found that 10% of women and 5% of men had experienced discrimination based on their weight, including being rejected for a job. A 2014 study from Vanderbilt University found that overweight women are paid less than their male colleagues across a variety of industries.
Some U.S. cities like San Francisco and Binghamton, N.Y. have passed legislation preventing weight discrimination. But Michigan is the only state that has an explicit law on the books. The law, which was passed in 1976, also forbids discrimination on the basis of age and height.
We already know that women are judged more harshly than men for their physical appearance. But overweight women face such criticism at even harsher levels – from both men and women.
A 2016 study found that male job interviewers judged overweight female candidates more harshly than overweight male candidates, while female job interviewers judged both female and male overweight candidates harshly. When it comes to ‘beauty,’ being an overweight woman is judged negatively by both sexes whereas men are a lot more forgiving towards each other.
And, perhaps more devastatingly, it reinforces the archaic cultural idea that women are valued entirely on how they look rather than their skill set, experience or talent. And deeming overweight women less valuable can have detrimental effects on their bottom line, whether it’s getting paid less or getting passed over for a job or promotion.
If you feel you have been discriminated by your employer on the basis of race, color, age, gender, religion or natural origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, and disability, contact the Law Offices of Renee Lazar to schedule a FREE one hour no obligation consultation.