Imagine you are the Hiring Manager for a distribution warehouse and you are interviewing applicants for a materials handler position. The first candidate enters the room, standing at a height of 5’4”, weighing more than 500 pounds. You continue the interview and learn that he has high qualifications, but you can’t help considering how his weight may affect his work performance.
You anticipate that his obesity might put him at a greater risk of developing serious illnesses that may lead to absenteeism. You also consider that accommodations may be required for him to use the fork lift and other machinery, and you worry he may pose a safety threat if he were unable to move quickly enough to evacuate in the event of an emergency.
Based on these considerations, you decide not to hire this candidate. Was this proper or did you put too much emphasis on his obesity and risk liability? This is the question many business employers have had to face in light of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Recent cases brought by the EEOC may shed light on whether severe obesity is a protectable disability, but the question still remains: when is obesity “severe” enough to constitute an ADA-protected disability?