HR leaders needs to look at how they address the safety, other needs of overweight employees.
Statistics suggest that at least a small percentage of your employees are overweight or obese. Some of these individuals may qualify for Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) protections if their weight and related symptoms/problems “substantially limit a major life activity.” You need to know who qualifies for what protections and be prepared to provide these accordingly. Otherwise, you could leave your organization open to discrimination complaints.
If an employee is obese and has associated problems—such as joint pain, mobility difficulties, shortness of breath, and/or diabetes, you need to implement a process to determine what accommodations may be needed or possible. Note that the underlying problems may be considered disabilities in their own right, regardless of weight issues; and the ADA considers those workers “regarded as disabled,” even if they don’t meet other criteria.
Examples of some useful accommodations include:
· Work stations, furniture, and other equipment that are sized for the worker and enable him or her to be comfortable and safe at work.
· Move the person’s work location to a more accessible place, such as closer to the entrance, near an elevator, or on the first floor. This is especially important for employees with mobility issues.
· Allow frequent breaks, especially if the person’s job involves physical labor or activities.
· Remove non-essential functions from the person’s job if the individual can’t perform them because of his or her weight and related problems. You DO NOT have to accommodate a person by removing essential functions.
· If possible, allow part-time work or flexible hours.
There are steps the employer can take to help support overweight workers and keep them as healthy and productive as possible:
1. Ensure that health insurance benefits have options for disability and weight-related problem coverage. Make sure that your plan covers mental health as well.
2. Provide employee wellness efforts that obese workers can safely participate in, and ensure that they have access to employee assistance programs as needed or desired.
3. Promote and enforce anti-harassment and anti-bullying policies. It is never acceptable for someone to be mocked or bullied because of his or her weight.
4. Train managers and staff on recognizing and avoiding subconscious bias against overweight employees. Educate supervisors/managers how to recognize and address harassment or bullying of these individuals.
Click here for more information about the ADA and obesity.