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Weight discrimination illegal in Michigan, but still prevalent

A number of factors may influence an individual's weight. From genetics to medications being taken, there are certain outside influences beyond a person's control that can cause them to become -- and stay -- overweight. While Michigan has banned discrimination based on an employee's weight, the measure was originally introduced to prevent discrimination against women for traditionally male careers. This may no longer afford overweight employees the proper protection.

The results of a 2009 survey of employers demonstrated a shocking fact -- weight discrimination may be pervasive during hiring processes. An overwhelming 93 percent of employers surveyed reported that if two individuals applying for a job were equally qualified, they would likely choose the applicant that was not overweight. However, according to a Michigan civil rights act, discrimination based on weight is illegal.

A separate, more recent poll conducted in 2012 reported that over half of obese employees felt that they had been discriminated against at work due to their weight. Overall, women tend to take the brunt of weight discrimination in the workplace. Additionally, weight discrimination rose sharply in the 10-year period that followed 1995.

While Michigan is the only state in the United States that legally protects employees from weight discrimination, there are some individuals who believe the current statutes in place are not enough to truly protect the overweight and obese. If an individual has been passed over for jobs or promotions, or has been the victim of discrimination based upon weight in multiple other ways, the current legal protections can still suffice for pursuing a discrimination or wrongful termination claim. If it is found that an employer did indeed discriminate against an employee based upon his or her weight, the victim can receive financial compensation as a sense of justice for an aspect of their appearance that they may have little to no control over.

Source: Pacific Standard, "You Don't Have a Right to Be Obese at Work", Jake Blumgart, April 9, 2014

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