Obesity as a Disability – The Debate Continues 

According to the Americans with Disabilities Act and M.G.L. ch. 151B, employees are entitled to protections associated with mental or physical impairments if they rise to the level of a “disability,” a question resolved by determining whether the condition substantially impairs one or major life activities.  If someone meets the statutory definition of “disabled,” they are entitled to important workplace protections, including those prohibiting harassment and discrimination, as well as those requiring employers to engage in an interactive process to determine if reasonable accommodations must be provided to the employee to mitigate the impacts the disability has on work performance.   In 2008, the Americans with Disabilities Act was amended in a number of important ways, including in ways that greatly expanded the definition of “disability.”  As a result, numerous conditions (cancer, diabetes, etc.) are clearly considered “disabilities.” 

The status of obesity as a “disability,” however, is not clear.   Some courts have said “maybe,” others have said “no,” and others have said “yes, but only if it results from an underlying physiological disorder.”  On September 21, 2016, the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination joined the debate, finding that an employee who suffered from morbid obesity was disabled and that the employer’s refusal to grant him a leave of absence violated its obligation to provide the employee a reasonable accommodation. 

Please feel free to contact us if you have questions about disability discrimination, the interactive process, or workplace accommodations.    

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