Discrimination in hiring is illegal in many countries, the UK included. Only certain categories get protection. Gender, age, race, ethnicity, disability, religion, and sexual orientation are protected statuses. That means that companies cannot factor those characteristics into the hiring process. But being obese is not a protected status.
As reported by the BBC, obesity is one of the few categories where discrimination is generally accepted. This includes organizations making hiring and firing decisions based on a person’s weight.
Perceived Capabilities of the Obese
People make assumptions regarding the capabilities of the overweight and obese. Many believe that they will not be physically capable of working for long periods without tiring. Additionally, their level of fitness, including strength and endurance, is often questioned.
While a person’s weight may factor in the physical abilities, some people who would qualify as obese are actually very fit. So the assumption that a person is not capable of completing certain tasks due to their weight may be entirely incorrect.
But, when hiring managers make these leaps in judgment, an obese person can miss out on the job opportunity solely because of that fact. And there is no recourse if the candidate’s weight was the determining factor.
Overweight People Earn Less
On average, obese individuals make less money than their thinner counterparts. This isn’t due to issues of negotiating one’s salary. Instead, it the type of work obtained.
Obese workers are more likely to take positions requiring physical activity within the job duties. Additionally, they tend to avoid employment that requires significant interaction with the public. Overall, these positions within the job market pay less on average than those working with customers.
Women Hit Harder than Men
Being obese has a negative impact on the hire-ability of men and women, but women tend to feel more of the negatives. It could be related to the pressures put on women regarding their appearance, and the perception of the way they look in certain workplaces. But, women are also less likely than men to negotiate their salaries, so that is also a factor.
Hoping for Change
Employees and job candidates that have faced weight-based discrimination hope that employers will look past a person’s weight when making job-related decisions. However, there is little recourse for those that on the wrong end of the discrimination equation. Being obese, in and of itself, it not a disability. In fact, many people who are obese suffer few limitations because of their weight.
Those whose weight relates to an underlying condition or physiological disorder may receive under disability law. If an employee gets fired due to their weight, and there is no evidence that they weren’t able to perform the duties of the job, the case may be stronger than if they simply weren’t hired for a position.
In cases where women must meet different physical standards than men, a case of gender-based discrimination is an option.
If weight remains an unprotected status, those who suffer from weight-based discrimination have limited options. Whether laws will change in the future is unknown. However, it is important to note that weight does not always accurately reflect one’s health. And being healthy should always take priority in a person’s life over trying to hit a specific number on the scale.