UPDATE: May 11, 2023: This story has been updated to reflect the New York City Council's passage of a weight discrimination bill Thursday afternoon.
Discrimination in the workplace can take many forms. While federal laws protect against many abuses, unfair treatment because of a person’s weight is not one of them.
Statistics about the prevalence of weight discrimination differ depending on the study, but they all show the same general results: Workers are being treated differently because of their weight.
Take an April survey by ResumeBuilder, a digital resume-building provider, for example. In the survey, more than one-quarter of the 1,000 people surveyed said they had ‘definitely’ or ‘probably’ experienced discrimination at work because of their weight. The number of respondents reporting weight discrimination jumped much higher among those who self-identified as overweight or obese, climbing to 53% and 71%, respectively.
Workers’ self-reported experiences seem to align with other research; according to data released Monday by the Society for Human Resource Management, workers who are obese are more likely to be seen as lazy, unmotivated and unprofessional, compared to employees of average weight who are more likely to be viewed as high-performing, hardworking, motivated and as leaders.
The SHRM data also showed the effect those stereotypes have in the workplace. Eleven percent of HR professionals said weight factored into decisions made in a candidate’s application process and that employees who are obese aren’t treated equally to workers of average weight.
While federal legislation falls short on weight discrimination, some states and municipalities are enacting their own laws. New York City Council approved a bill Thursday that would prohibit discriminating against a person based on their weight. Michigan’s anti-discrimination legislation explicitly includes weight as a protected category, as does legislation in a handful of cities, including San Francisco.