Employers Bear the Load of the Overweight Worker

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I have written past posts on weight affecting a job candidate’s ability to land a job based on the notion that an overweight employee could more significantly impact a company’s  healthcare costs in comparison to a candidate of normal weight.  Gallup has recently released more research to substantiate this fact and many are calling for legislation to protect not only the overweight job candidate but also the overweight employee.

According to the survey, absenteeism was far higher among overweight employees with one or more chronic conditions when compared to normal weight individuals with one or more chronic conditions.  The annual cost of lost productivity due to these absences was three times higher for overweight individuals compared to employees of normal weight.  This cost increases when “presenteeism” is accounted for which is when employees go to work but are less productive because of their overall poor well being.

Years ago, as the detrimental effects of smoking gained attention, employers began discriminating against smokers or charged higher healthcare premiums to those who smoked.  Tobacco lobbyists came to the rescue and legislation was passed in 30 states to at least partially protect the smoking worker’s way of life.  Today overweight individuals far outnumber smokers but little is being done to protect them.  A great deal of evidence points to obese women earning less pay than their healthy weight counterparts and experiments show that overweight individuals with credentials equal to those of their healthy weight counterparts, receive less job interviews and lower performance reviews.

Clearly, discrimination against overweight candidates and employees exists, but is the discrimination justified?  A corporation’s primary goal is to make money. When an overweight individual costs the company several times more money in lost productivity and health care costs does it not seem logical for a company to hire the cheaper more productive thinner worker?  Is this discrimination or just good hiring practices?  On the flip side, how many perfectly healthy and productive overweight workers have been passed over for a thin, seemingly healthy worker who smokes?  Considering that 65% of the workforce is now considered overweight, the attendant health issues are being forced on employers.

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