Is Obesity Covered by the ADA

Is Obesity Covered by the ADA

                Can you be denied a job based on your weight? Do you have to provide accommodations for overweight employees? The answer to the question of can I be denied a job because of my weight, just like the question of do I have to accommodate an overweight employee, depends on what jurisdiction you are in.

In Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, and Rhode Island, the answer is that obesity is covered under the ADA. An employer in those states must accommodate an overweight employee under the ADA.

However, in Vermont, New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, Tennessee, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Montana, Iowa, Arkansas, Wisconsin, Illinois and Indiana, an employer does not need to accommodate an overweight person based on the ADA, and you can be refused a job for being overweight. 

However, it is not as simple as that, and that is only a list of twenty-two states. Even within those twenty-two states the answer is not as straightforward as it may seem.


Man eating a hamburger and fries in front of a laptop

In 2018 the EEOC released guidelines regarding when obesity is considered a disability, and it found that the person’s weight must be beyond the normal limits, and result from an underlying psychological condition. In the states mentioned above as not being a state where an employer has to accommodate someone for being overweight, under the ADA, the employer still may have to accommodate that person if their weight problem is the result of a psychological condition.

For the twenty-eight states not listed, the question remains whether the ADA covers weight problems.

                For the twenty-eight states not listed above, there is a safe route you can take as an employer, if someone’s weight problem is the result of another disability, such as a phycological impairment, assume that you need to accommodate them. However, if the weight problem is not the result of another disability, four, out of five, of the Federal Appellate Courts, who have made decisions, have found that weight, alone, is not a disability under the ADA.

There is no guarantee that Federal Courts in the other twenty-eight states will rule one way, or the other, about whether being overweight qualifies as a disability under the ADA. However, the interpretations that a federal agency gives regarding its own guidelines, hold a lot of weight in the courtroom. On this subject the EEOC has interpreted their own definition of disability to only include being overweight, under the ADA, when it is the result of a psychological condition, not as a disability in and of itself.

By: Joshua H. Sheskin, Esq., M.A. -Trial Counsel- Lubell & Rosen, LLC. 954-880-9500 [email protected]

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Joshua H. Sheskin,  Esq.

 [email protected]
 (954) 880-9500