Discrimination and harassment can take many forms in the workplace. One of the ones that many people may not consider up front is harassment or discrimination on the basis of body weight. Often, overweight workers face both unintentional discrimination due to internalized biases and more intentional discrimination, including unfair jokes and mockery.
Have you faced discrimination in the workplace due to your weight or size? Consider some of these examples of discrimination and harassment.
Obvious Obesity Discrimination
Obesity discrimination has continued to rise over the years. Discrimination and harassment may include clear, obvious signs of discrimination, such as:
Teasing or Jokes About Weight
Commenting on someone’s size at work is always inappropriate. Jokes about your weight can undermine your self-confidence and negatively impact your job performance, particularly if you already have poor body image or struggle with your weight and self-esteem.
Less Courtesy at Work
Sometimes, coworkers may extend less courtesy to you because of your weight. They may have obvious negative biases, including thinking you “lazy” or “without willpower,” or think that you do not deserve adequate room because of your size. As a result, you may find yourself struggling to get adequate room at conference room tables, or feeling judged because of your size during normal conversations with coworkers.
Promotion Denial or Firing
Most of the time, employers will not outright tell you that they are firing you because of your weight. Sometimes, however, you may see obvious signs that you have been denied a promotion or even fired from your job because of your weight. You might hear comments on your size or appearance from your coworkers or your employer, for example, leading up to the inevitable firing, or your manager might even tell you that you don’t have the right “look” that they’re trying to portray for the office–all of which are highly discriminatory and, in fact, illegal.
Comments or “Coaching” on Appearance
Sometimes, your employer or coworker might try to coach you on a professional appearance. While there’s nothing wrong with coaching in the right light–such as if you’re dressing inappropriately for the office or failing to meet grooming standards expected of employees–if that coaching seems to be centered on you as a result of your weight, it could be construed as harassment.
Social groups exist in any workplace, and you may not get along with every group all the time. However, sometimes, that exclusion may be deliberate, as a result of your weight–and your coworkers may not be subtle about it. You may, for example, get comments about activities you “wouldn’t want” to engage in due to your larger size, or miss out on restaurant invitations. Some social groups may deliberately exclude you based on your appearance. Social exclusion due to your size counts as workplace discrimination and can be addressed as such.
Subtle Discrimination of Overweight Workers in the Workplace
While some discrimination and harassment is obvious, other times, you may notice subtle exclusion based on your weight or appearance in the workplace. Keep an eye out for these signs, which could be a result of discrimination.
Do you miss out on opportunities that are offered to peers at your same level within the organization? Do your peers get sent to conferences, events, and seminars more often? Are they selected more frequently for big projects? If there are no other performance issues that could cause the problem, you may want to consider whether you have faced weight-based discrimination.
Infrequent and Inconsistent Praise
Consider how your coworkers are treated and the standards they’re held to when working on a project. Sometimes, due to intrinsic biases against people who are overweight, managers may fail to recognize your contributions the same way they do contributions from lower-weight peers. You may notice, for example, that work that would receive praise when someone else turns it in is simply considered “acceptable” when you do, or that you are even given negative feedback, even when you turn in work that is the same standard as what seems to be expected or even lauded when turned in by your peers.
Trouble Getting Raises or Promotions
Do you find yourself locked into the same position, regardless of your efforts to seek a promotion? Is your pay rate lower than others in your organization who work at the same level you do–including those who may have been there for the same amount of time or less? If so, you may find that intrinsic discrimination is to blame, as managers use their internal opinions about your weight to gauge your accomplishments instead of your actual work performance.
What Should You Do If You Face Obesity Discrimination at Work?
Obesity discrimination at work can cause serious problems with your self-esteem, your performance, and even your income or work track, especially if you miss out on opportunities and promotions as a result of discrimination. Luckily, you do have the right to stand up for yourself when you face discrimination in the workplace.
Start by documenting examples of discrimination, including active harassment and more passive evidence. If you have access to other team members’ salary information, for example, you could use that documentation to show that your employer is not offering you the compensation they should. Likewise, if you have faced overt discrimination, such as being told that you cannot travel or participate in a particular activity or event because of your weight, you should document those occasions.
If relevant, you may want to report specific instances of discrimination or harassment to your HR department. Keep in mind that the HR department cannot act on circumstances they aren’t aware of. Make sure to issue specific descriptions of the discrimination you have faced and the individuals who participated in that discrimination, and that you document the complaint to HR in writing.
Next, talk to your lawyer about your rights. If you have faced weight-based discrimination at work, you may deserve compensation. Contact Perkins Asbill, A Professional Law Corporation at 916-446-2000 to schedule a free consultation.