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Obesity is used to describe a person that is above their ideal weight by about 20% or more. This can correspond with a BMI (Body Mass Index) of 30+. In addition to behavioral and dietary patterns, other things can influence a person's weight, from genetics to medications to illnesses. Obesity is associated with gallstones, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, and respiratory conditions. It can also increase the chances of health problems like diabetes, high blood pressure, stroke, and heart disease. The risk of certain cancers, such as breast, colon, kidney, liver, and others can also be increased with obesity.
Obesity and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Obesity
People with obesity may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with obesity will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Situations and Solutions:
A janitor with obesity was concerned about climbing a ladder to change light bulbs because the ladder was not rated to hold his weight.
The employer purchased a large-rated ladder for his use.
A salesman with obesity had to travel by airplane once a year to attend a conference, but could not fit in a single, economy class seat.
He asked his employer to upgrade him to first class, but the employer opted to purchase two economy class seats for him, which cost less than one first class ticket.
A social worker with obesity had to do home visits, but had difficulty getting into clients’ homes when she had to climb many steps.
She asked her employer to only assign her to clients whose homes did not have steps. The employer was not able to do this without an undue hardship so offered the employee a reassignment to a social work position that did not require home visits.
An attorney with obesity had to leave the office frequently to go to court and often could not find close parking when she returned to the office
She had difficulty walking long distances so the employer gave her a reserved parking space close to the worksite.
During the holiday season an employer hosts an employee appreciation luncheon.
An employee with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) and obesity was on a restrictive diet, which included avoiding foods and drinks that triggered severe symptoms. In addition to the food typically provided for the event, the employer agreed to work with the catering company to develop additional dishes that the employee would be able to eat. This accommodation benefited others with similar sensitivities to food.
An office worker with obesity was having back pain, which was aggravated by sitting in an office chair that was not large enough.
The employer purchased a large-rated chair for her.