The American Medical Association’s decision to call obesity a “disease” instead of a medical condition could make it harder to discriminate against fat employees, The Wall Street Journal Law Blog reports.
Now that obesity is a disease, people with body mass indexes of more than 30 are almost certainly covered under The Americans with Disabilities Act, attorney Jon Hyman told the Law Blog.
That 1990 law says employers have to provide disabled workers with “reasonable accommodations” to help them do their jobs. It also makes it illegal for employers to fire workers for being disabled.
“Conventional wisdom has been that normal, run-of-the-mill obesity, unlinked to an underlying medical condition such as diabetes, is not a disability protected from discrimination by the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Hyman has written on his blog. “This decision by the AMA, however, will likely flip that conventional wisdom on its head.”
The AMA’s decision isn’t legally binding but will likely influence courts, which have previously been reluctant to consider obesity to be a disability, Hyman told the Journal.
Back in 2006, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit ruled that obesity had to be the result of a “physiological condition” in order to be covered by the ADA. The court said it declined to provide ADA protection to everybody who has “abnormal” physical characteristics — if it did so, it ruled, people who were “extremely tall or grossly short” would get protection under the law.