Employment Practices Liability: Obesity and the American Disabilities Act

Employment Practices Liability Obesity and the American Disabilities Act

Employment Practices Liability: Obesity and the American Disabilities Act

More than one-third of adults in the United States are obese, according to the American Medical Association (AMA). This is such a major concern for our country that in 2013 the AMA officially recognized and classified obesity as a disease instead of a condition. Obesity-related conditions include heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, some of the leading causes of preventable death. Moreover, medical costs for people who are obese are $1,429.00 higher than those of normal weight, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

With the reclassification of obesity by the AMA last year there were immediate concerns that this would spur employee lawsuits under the American Disabilities Act (ADA). And in fact, the first lawsuit was filed last year by a Missouri man who claimed that his former employer allegedly fired him because of his weight, claiming that “severe obesity … is a physical impairment within the meaning of the ADA”. In court, he alleged that the employer regarded him as being substantially limited in the major life activity of walking. He claimed that at all times he was “able to perform the essential functions of his position with Defendant, with or without accommodation.”

The employer, however, contended that the plaintiff’s severe obesity was not an actual disability under the ADA unless it is related to an underlying physical disorder or condition. Just the other day, a federal court ruled that the man has sufficiently supported his claim that he is disabled within the meaning of the ADA, rejecting the employer’s motion to dismiss the suit.

Obesity is creating a crisis for employers. They’re faced with the task of balancing concerns that severely overweight people are more likely to get injured, miss work and drive up group health insurance costs against the risk of violating the ADA. What’s important is that employers respond appropriately when an employee who is obese asks for a reasonable accommodation to do their job. “It is very important to have a good-faith dialogue,” according Richard Cohen, an attorney with Fox Rothschild LLP.

In addition, making sure that an organization’s employee handbook clearly outlines its philosophy, hiring and firing practices and procedures, anti-discrimination policies, and much more is imperative. Along with sound best practices, Employment Practices Liability Insurance is also essential to provide protection to organizations in the event of allegations of employee discrimination, sexual harassment and other related workplace lawsuits. Caitlin Morgan provides an extensive menu of professional and management liability policies, including EPLI insurance, for companies. We’d be happy to discuss how we can put the right program in place. Give us a call at: 877.226.1027.

Sources: AMA, CDC, Law 360, Mondaq