Obesity in the UK has arguably reached ‘epidemic proportions’, according to the Institute of Employment Studies (IES). The report outlines a clear correlation between stigma and obesity discrimination in the employment sector.
It’s a common belief that some employers regard obesity as a something that’s controllable. Meaning, through their own behaviour, people are inflicting a state of obesity onto themselves.
In reality, there are several layers to unfold – workplace issues included – that trigger direct effects. You can’t pinpoint it to one cause; neither is it a conscious choice we take.
Read how employers can avoid intentional or unintentional weight discrimination; and whether obesity falls under the protected characteristics.
The stigma around weight and obesity
A common misconception regarding weight and obesity revolves around being able to control one’s weight solely through diets and physical exercise.
The science behind what influences body weight is far more complicated. Human genetics, environmental factors, medicinal influences – they all play a substantial part.
It’s true that reducing your calorie input or regularly exercising can help maintain body weight. However, you cannot deny the biological factors that differ in every human.
Obesity stigma can play a huge part when it comes to a person’s daily life – personal and professional. Through our workplace policies to our recruitment processes, a change in the narrative needs to happen. Stigmatising images, language, and attitudes should be eliminated to ensure cohesion, inclusion, and equality.
Is obesity included in the Equality Act?
Under the Equality Act (2010), all people are protected against discrimination or unfair treatment. In the workplace, it’s unlawful to treat and employee unfavourable based on their protected characteristics.
These protected characteristics include:
- Marriage and partnerships.
- Pregnancy and maternity.
- Sexual orientation.
In legal terms, obesity can sit under the umbrella term for disability. The physical causes and effects of the obesity must be taken into consideration.
For example, people diagnosed with obesity can also have other connected medical conditions, like diabetes or mobility issues. Separate or not, these health conditions collectively class as a disability.
But it’s not just physical health problems; psychological factors should also be adhered to. The Act outlines disability as a,
“Physical or mental impairment which has a substantial and long-term adverse effect on a person’s ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities.”
But there’s more to it than complying with a legal obligation. Without tackling inequality and prejudice, employees will feel unvalued. You could risk losing talented employees, or even face discrimination claims in employment tribunals.
How can employees support employees with obesity?
Employers have a responsibility to provide a safe and secure workplace environment. They should legally and morally comply with a duty to care for their staff.
They are also legally bound to not discriminate or show favouritism in the workplace. This extends to recruitment – onboarding and promotions should be done without prejudice or preferential treatment.
If an employer treats their worker who has an obesity-related disability unfavourably, it can lead to discrimination claims and expensive fines.
Workers shouldn’t feel impaired whilst performing their work duties. This includes making reasonable adjustments; like enlarging workspaces and office furniture. For their mental health wellbeing, you could allow flexible working hours and later start/finish times.
Stand for equality and inclusion
Companies should aim to create a working environment that’s fair, diverse, and inclusive. Through these changes, employers can increase both staff morale and business reputation.
HR departments must ensure their hiring procedures and policies don’t discourage people from applying, due to potential prejudice or discrimination. And if employees raise claims, seek HR advice on discrimination matters and resolution. It is not worth risking your staff relations, retention, and wellbeing.
Stand as a business that represents workplace inclusion. This will ensure your brand sits above and beyond the competition. Watch your action attract top talent and business success – now, and in the near future.