What if I'm hanging out in my company's lunchroom and I'm gorging myself on cupcakes. Oh yeah, and what if I'm already overweight -- maybe a couple hundred pounds overweight? Should my employer say something to me? What if I'm on the company's insurance plan--- does that give my employer a right to encourage me to eat healthier?
More often these days, employers are getting involved in their workers' weight issues, enrolling them in company wellness programs. Of course there's a fine line between when and how employers intervene with overweight employees.
Today, AOL.com featured the story of Ronald Kratz. Kratz thought he was helping the situation when he alerted his superiors at a Houston-based plant run by BAE Systems that he was having trouble buckling the seatbelt of a forklift that he was operating and suggested the use of an extender.
Two weeks later, the 600 pound Kratz was fired. Now, two years later, Kratz unemployment insurance has run out and Kratz has decided to file suit with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission representing him. The thinking is that Kratz, who has since lost some 200 lbs., could have a case. According to ABC News, his performance evaluations in 2008 and 2009 were "very good."
"It was a total surprise," said Kratz, in an interview with the Houston Chronicle. "I wanted to cry." Kratz went on to tell the Texas daily that he had offered to accept a demotion in order to remain employed. But perhaps what made the firing so surprising, in addition to the positive reviews he was receiving, was that physical labor took up some 10 percent of his work activities, he says. The rest of his time was occupied with desk work.
I'm not clear on how long Kratz worked at the company and whether his superiors made any attempts to help him lose weight. It would be interesting to know if the company had a wellness program and how costly it would be to buy him the extender he had requested.
Meanwhile, it turns out really heavy people might be considered protected from discrimination.
"I don't think people are aware morbid obesity could be considered a disability under the law," Kathy Boutchee, senior trial attorney with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), told ABC News.
Weight discrimination cases represent a burgeoning field of employment lawsuits. At this time, Michigan is the lone state that has formal statewide decrees against weight discrimination. Other localities, however, have also begun protecting the overweight in the workplace, including six U.S. cities (Santa Cruz and San Francisco, Calif.; Madison, Wis.; Urbana, Ill.; Washington, D.C. and Binghamton, N.Y.)
Readers, do you think employers are justified in getting involved in their workers' weight issues? Should they have to incur the expense of sending their worker to Weight Watchers or buying them special equipment or should they just fire them? Do you feel firing someone who needs special accommodations because they're overweight is discrimination?