One Size Does Not Fit All: Accommodating Obesity-Related Disabilities in the Workplace

Abstract

Several factors are combining to make it increasingly important that employers recognize their obligation to accommodate job applicants and employees with obesity-related disabilities, and respond effectively to requests for such accommodations when they arise. This article provides analysis and guidance that is intended to assist employers and practitioners in anticipating and responding to requests for obesity-related workplace accommodations. It is based on a review and analysis of all identified U.S. judicial decisions involving obesity-related workplace accommodations that were either voluntarily provided or disputed by an employer. The results of that review and analysis are summarized in a table by the type of accommodation, job, and court ruling (when the accommodation was not voluntarily provided). The table provides a list of potential obesity-related accommodations that is both more comprehensive and more specific than any list previously published in the legal, behavioral sciences, or health literatures. Key legal issues are identified and discussed, and practical guidance is provided. Although the focus is U.S. law, the guidance provided has relevance to employers and practitioners in the European Union, and those countries whose laws recognize that obesity may involve a legally protected disability that entitles an individual to reasonable accommodation in at least some circumstances.

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The ADAAA amended the ADA to explicitly provide that employers need not provide reasonable accommodation to individuals who are covered by the ADA only as a result of being “regarded as disabled.” Also, although in theory individuals covered by the ADA under the “record of disability’ prong might be entitled to an accommodation, a review of failure to accommodate cases involving obesity-related disabilities did not identify any reported cases in which a plaintiff claimed a right to an accommodation based on having a record of disability.

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Correspondence to Mark V. Roehling.

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Roehling, M.V., Jayasinghe, M. One Size Does Not Fit All: Accommodating Obesity-Related Disabilities in the Workplace. Employ Respons Rights J 31, 1–27 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10672-018-9326-8

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Keywords

  • Reasonable accommodations
  • Disability
  • Obesity
  • Discrimination