Steve Smith, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Steve Smith, HRExaminer Editorial Advisory Board Member

Steve leads content development, thought leadership and public relations activities as a partner at Starr Tincup. Steve received his B.A. in American Studies from the University of Texas at Austin. Since 2001, Steve has specialized exclusively in human resources and human capital-focused communications consulting after nearly a decade as a newspaper journalist. He has earned numerous awards for his business writing and his blogging and believes that most of life is just showing up and not being a jerk. Full Bio…

Is Weight Discrimination OK?

by Steve Smith

HR, I’m having a hard time with something. As a business owner, I depend on you for advice that helps me run my business and contributes to the bottom line. You’re my partner in building a better, stronger company, right? So here’s what I’m wondering: When is it OK to discriminate in the hiring process?

Now, pick yourself up off the floor. I know this sounds weird. I also know that there’s this thing called the EEOC. Discrimination is not cool. I get it. But it happens. Sometimes it’s even OK. Where is the line? That’s what I want to know.

My question was prompted by a news story about Citizens Medical Center in my own home state of Texas refusing to hire anyone with a Body Mass Index (BMI) over 35. To be fair, Citizens Medical Center is only the latest of many heathcare organizations that have adopted similar policies. It seems logical – obesity is a significant risk factor for lots of really horrible (and, by the way, expensive) medical conditions. As an employer who takes good health seriously, shouldn’t a healthcare provider adopt policies that sets a good example for patients and expresses healthy values? Discrimination’s OK in that case, right?

Don’t get the wrong idea. I’m fat. According to those BMI calculators, I’m actually obese. I prefer the term “Falstaffian,” but let’s face it, fat is fat. Should that matter to hiring managers? And is it OK for hospitals but not for other employers?

What do you think, HR?

I’m kind of on the side of fat people. You know, solidarity and all. I mean, don’t we fat people have a hard enough time? I mean, companies are already OK paying fat people less money. So, give us a break. Please. Besides, the unemployed already have enough to worry about not being hired for being unemployed without having to worry about their weight, too?  And I’d hate to have to fire myself.

Maybe hospitals and medical providers have a point. After all, lots of healthcare employers are OK  not hiring smokers. That seems reasonable; tobacco use is a risk factor for lots of nasty health conditions. All those smoke breaks kill productivity. Smokers are more expensive to cover. But, as a former smoker, I’ve learned that if you really want to know what’s going on in a company, hang out with the smokers. Besides, those folks are fun as hell. But HR – this is your call. Seriously.

However, one area of hiring discrimination where I really have to draw the line is attractive people. Oddly enough, attractive women face some significant hiring discrimination. This is one protected class that I wish I could hang with, but, alas, I’m with the fatties and wishing I could shoot the breeze with the smokers. In other words, I’m hanging with the unemployed.

So do me a favor HR – tell me where the lines of discrimination should be drawn. And your list had better include clowns. I mean, I hate them with their big red noses, their oversized shoes and how 32 of them can cram into a tiny little car. It’s really an abomination. You’re with me on this, right?

  • Tom Bolt

    I think we have found the new definition of irony: institutions that are bound to HIPPA privacy rules are making people-decisions that involve matters which should be between the individual and their doctor. I have reached the age where it is easier to put on weight than take it off, but my last physical showed respectable lipid counts that might have surprised some who judge by outward appearances. Am I healthy enough to be employed? Like any other business decision a risk assessment that places the value-added in perspective with the downside possibilities would seem to be a better way to decide. Nothing is absolute.

    Jim Fix, the best selling author of The Complete Book of Running lost 60 pounds and stopped smoking for ten years while becoming the picture of health and the national model for fitness. One morning, after his daily run, he keeled over…dead of a heart attack. Perhaps health care institutions should close down their fitness centers and discourage running or maybe even discourage runners from applying for employment. 

    The statistics used by Citizens Medical Center in their argument should be heeded by those who want to live a healthy lifestyle. They should be applauded for raising consciousness on a critical issue. As an HR professional, I worry about disparate treatment of any class of candidates or employees. There is already insidious discrimination at the personal level and institutionalizing such practices probably won’t hold up to a stiff legal challenge.

    Now…about those ugly people! What’s up with that?

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  • Brave Captain of Industry

    I hate totalitarian assholes wherever they may be found. 
    Health Care and Employment should NOT be connected, and this is one good reason why.   But its OK with me anyway, because I will hire fat people with skills, pay them less, and spend the difference on rims and drywall while making you skinnier by eating your lunch.  You distort the market, and I will reap the reward.
    Keep it up America !  

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