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November 6, 2003Press Release

Nearly One-Half of Americans Polled Believe Obese Workers Are Discriminated Against on the Job

Employment Law Alliance survey reflects attitudes toward the working overweight

Milwaukee, WI - Nearly one-half (47 percent) of American workers believe that plus-size workers are being discriminated against in the U.S. workplace by their co-workers and supervisors, according to the latest "American At Work" public opinion survey conducted by the Employment Law Alliance.

Scott C. Beightol, CFO of the Employment Law Alliance and a partner in the Labor and Employment Law Practice Area of Michael Best & Friedrich LLP said the survey of 603 Americans (whom currently work full or part time) is among the first to focus on "the perception and predicament" of America's overweight workers.

"No one wants to be judged solely on their appearance, but unfortunately nearly half the workforce believes overweight workers are perceived negatively," explained Beightol. "Employment protections for certain groups of workers tend to lag behind social trends. We do know that obesity rates are increasing in the United States. If you couple increasing obesity rates with an increasing perception of unfair treatment, state legislatures and the Congress will likely respond in the future with employment protections for the overweight worker." Some local municipalities, (such as Madison) already provide employment protections for "personal appearance" which includes a person's weight. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Wisconsin's Fair Employment Act may also provide some limited protections for those with medically diagnosed weight disorders. Significant findings of the national telephone survey conducted during the week of October 20 include:

  • 47% believe obese workers suffer discrimination in the workplace.
  • 32% think these workers are less likely to be respected and taken seriously in the workplace
  • 31% say the workers deserve special government protection against weight-based discrimination.
  • 30% feel these overweight workers are less likely to be hired or promoted
  • 11% who describe themselves as overweight or obese say they have been the victim of weight-related discrimination in either their current or former workplace.

Beightol, drilling down into the poll results, said they reveal sharp differences in attitudes when it comes to the issue of the government providing special legal protections for the overweight and obese worker. For example, he noted that while 38% of those polled who consider themselves overweight said they support special federal protections, that view was shared by only 26% of the respondents who describe themselves as standard or underweight.

"Obesity is at crisis proportions in America as a health issue but not as an employment issue, at least not yet. As with almost any discriminating practice, the best way to address it is to begin to talk about it," said Beightol. "Employers might explore employee wellness initiatives to help employees avoid obesity. These programs not only help improve morale and create more tolerance, but they can also save dollars by avoiding expensive litigation and by negotiating less costly premiums for health care."

The poll was designed and conducted by Dr. Ted Reed of the Media-Pennsylvania based marketing research firm of Reed, Haldy, Macintosh & Associates.

About the Employment Law Alliance

The Employment Law Alliance is the world's largest integrated, global practice network comprised of premier, independent law firms distinguished for their practice in employment and labor law. There are member firms in every jurisdiction in the United States and major commercial centers throughout the world. For further information, including access to the survey charts and graphs, visit www.employmentlawalliance.com.

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