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Obesity in the Workplace


According to SHRM’s 2014 Global HR Trends Report, obesity is on the rise in the U.S. and worldwide. If current trends continue, more than 50% of the U.S. adult population will be obese by 2030. The growing number of employees and candidates who are obese concern me as an employer because I have heard that they are deemed as having a disability.  Is that true?  What does that mean to me as the HR Manager?


Yes, under the ADAA, the courts have expanded the legal definition of when obesity constitutes a disability. Employees are no longer required to establish that their obesity is due to another physiological condition or disorder. Obesity alone – whether morbid, severe, or simple obesity – can cause sufficient impairment that a person can be deemed as “disabled”.  Morbid obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of 40 or higher; severe obesity is a BMI of 35-39.9 and simple obesity is a BMI of 30-34.9. Under the new amendments, the EEOC states that basic obesity alone can sufficiently impact life activities like bending, walking and transportation and it could now be treated as a physical impairment.  As in most potentially legal situations, each situation is unique and should be looked at carefully before taking any action.

As an HR Manager, the bottom line is that there are many more potentially disabled employees in the workplace. Employees who may be entitled to nondiscrimination protection and potentially reasonable accommodations if necessary.  Keep in mind, accommodations can be simple.  Things such as a large ergonomic chair, seat belt extenders for industrial equipment, or even allowing an employee to use a scooter.  Bottom line, be sure to treat obese employees as any other potentially disabled employee in the workplace and work with the employee to determine if an appropriate accommodation is necessary and can be made.

Strategic HR understands your concerns with the safety and well-being of your employees. We offer expertise in health, safety and security to cover any need you may have from analyzing your safety programs to making sure your policies and procedures are compliant and protect your staff. Please visit our Health, Safety & Security page for more information on any of these services.