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Can an employer discriminate against overweight employees?

On Behalf of | Oct 8, 2019 | Discrimination |

Michigan is the only state in the union that enacted laws prohibiting an employer from discriminating against an employee who is overweight. Whether someone is carrying a few extra pounds or is obese, an employer may not harass, humiliate, fire or hire based on an individual’s weight. Employees who experience discrimination in the workplace because of their height, weight or body mass index may file a legal action against an employer for injuries and damages.

According to Michigan’s Department of Civil Rights, 39 out of the 2,100 complaints filed in 2018 were based on allegations of weight discrimination against an employee, as reported by the Washington Post. Those individuals accused an employer of weight-based harassment, which may include making comments about dieting or informing an employee that he or she might face termination if they fail to lose some weight.

Some companies operating in the Wolverine State may be able to set general standards for employees to adhere to a certain “appearance.” State law, however, prohibits employers from setting standards requiring employees to meet a particular height or weight to comply. If a company requires its employees to maintain a certain appearance, the Americans With Disabilities Act prohibits an employer from discriminating against an employee with a disability, which includes obesity.

An employer that fails to comply with Michigan’s anti-weight discrimination statute, also known as the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act, may face a serious civil action. Employees have a right to sue over unlawful discrimination in the workplace regardless of whether it is based on weight, height, age, gender, sexual orientation, race, ethnicity, religion or national origin.

This information is provided for educational purposes only, and should not be interpreted as legal advice.