The Expanding Ranks of the Disabled
By Jill Cueni-Cohen
Obesity now affects approximately one in three Americans, according to recent data.
For this reason, says Dr. Patrice Harris, board member of the American Medical Association, the association adopted a policy in June that recognizes obesity as a disease, with the expectation that changes will be made in the way the medical community deals with obesity and obesity-related conditions like diabetes and heart disease.
While there currently is no federal law prohibiting discrimination against obese individuals, the AMA's recent announcement could bring about legislative changes that could affect the way employers deal with overweight employees. Some experts also fear that companies might face more disability-related lawsuits as a result.
Mark Zelek, an employment attorney and partner in the Miami office of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, says state legislators in Michigan were "ahead of their time" when they enacted the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act in 1976.
"Michigan makes it illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight and height. They're the only state that does this," he says, adding that judges throughout the country have long considered the issue of whether obesity may constitute a disability. However, attitudes toward obese employees have long been less-than-welcoming.