Is Obesity a Disability?

Ruling Could Spur Hiring Bias Against Obese Workers |

If obesity is included under the ADA, it would likely be narrowly defined to exclude a condition that is the result of a person’s lifestyle.

While there have been few cases like the one in Indiana, the growth of obesity in the workplace may lead to more workers’ compensation or discrimination cases.

If the courts recognize obesity as a disability, millions of obese Americans could potentially claim discrimination. About two-thirds of Americans are overweight, and 27 percent—about 72 million—are obese, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A doctor concluded that Childers’ back recovery was “doomed to failure” unless he lost weight. After physical therapy worsened Childers’ back pain, his doctor recommended back surgery.

The company argued that Childers’ weight constituted a pre-existing condition for which it was not responsible.

Citing a precedent in a case involving a longtime smoker, the court ruled differently. It said the employee’s pre-existing obesity, combined with his back injury and subsequent weight gain, formed a new work-related “single injury” the employer was responsible for treating.

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