Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Ruling Could Spur Hiring Bias Against Obese Workers

Workforce Management
October 19, 2009

An Indiana state court’s ruling that would require a small business to pay for weight-loss surgery could make employers more cautious when hiring obese people, employment attorneys say.The Indiana Court of Appeals upheld a workers’ compensation board ruling in August that pizza chain Boston’s The Gourmet Pizza would be required to pay for the weight-loss surgery of a former cook, Adam Childers, after doctors said the procedure was necessary to fix a back injury he suffered on the job in 2007.The ruling mirrored a similar finding in August by the Oregon Supreme Court in which an employer was told to pay for weight-loss surgery for an employee whose workplace injury required a knee replacement.The issue could lead employers—particularly small businesses—to think twice before hiring an obese worker, just as some businesses have enacted policies against hiring smokers, says Joseph Lazzarotti, a partner in the benefits group of Jackson Lewis. Weight-loss surgery can cost upwards of $25,000.“How do you deal with the fact that … hiring somebody could potentially bankrupt you?” Lazzarotti says. “As a small-business owner, people might think of that and weigh the risks of a [discrimination] claim because the alternative is they may be bankrupt.”Obese employees, like smokers, so far have had little success claiming they were discriminated against.Weight generally is not considered a disability covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act despite changes that went into effect in January broadening the definition of a disability, says Ramona L. Paetzold, a professor at Mays Business School at Texas A&M University.“We don’t know yet if [the changes to the ADA] will include people on the basis of weight,” Paetzold says. “If so, what will ‘obese’ be defined as, and will causes of obesity play a role?”

Full Story: http://www.workforce.com/section/00/article/26/74/26.php

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