Vigilant, an organization focusing exclusively on employment law, reviews key employment law implications following the American Medical Association (AMA)’s designation of obesity as a disease. Although the AMA’s decision is not binding, it will make it easier for applicants and employees to claim protection under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Currently, the ADA protects individuals from discrimination and generally entitles them to reasonable accommodation if they have a disability, i.e., an impairment that substantially limits a major life activity, such as walking, lifting, or breathing. The AMA ruling may influence the courts and Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to see obesity as an impairment.
“The EEOC’s job is to ensure that employers comply with their legal obligations under the ADA,” said Karen Davis, Vigilant Senior Employment Attorney. “But because individual medical conditions and work environments vary greatly, it isn’t always easy for employers to figure out the right approach.”
The ADA expects that applicants will be judged on their job qualifications, not their physical health. If a job requires physical ability, employers should require a post-offer medical exam as a standard part of the hiring process. Visit our website to download a complimentary copy of our “ADA: Post-Job-Offer Medical Exams” Legal Guide. If they are not part of a standard hiring process, then you may need to wait and see how the new employee does on the job. If he/she struggles, you may require a fitness-for-duty report. Ask about our Model Form that can help you do this.
If an employee’s weight is causing problems on the job, there are two options: put the responsibility on the employee to raise a medical issue, or initiate a discussion of reasonable workplace accommodation. Problems on the job can range from difficulty climbing stairs to not being able to fit in a forklift to needing a custom-made uniform. In order to comply with the ADA, employers are tasked with finding suitable accommodations for the employee.
Also, employers with federal contracts covered by affirmative action regulations have heightened obligations: If it’s reasonable to believe that a known disability is contributing to a performance problem, you must confidentially ask the employee whether the disability is the source of the problem, and if so, engage in an interactive process to look for a reasonable accommodation.
If faced with a specific situation, contact your Vigilant staff representative to discuss your options, or visit our website to download a complimentary copy of our Legal Guide, “ADA: Reasonable Accommodation Quick Reference”.
Vigilant (www.vigilantcounsel.org) helps employers in the Northwest and California navigate complex employment issues. Vigilant offers unlimited consulting with on-staff labor and employment attorneys, strategic HR professionals, and safety experts for a predictable, flat monthly membership fee. Membership includes employment law advice and resources for employee relations and human resources compliance. Vigilant’s professionals act as an extension of a business’s management team, allowing managers to focus on their core business objectives. For more information, visitwww.vigilantcounsel.org.