Skip to main content
Home » Future of Work » Confronting Weight Bias and Discrimination in the Workplace
Future of Work

Confronting Weight Bias and Discrimination in the Workplace

discrimination, weight, workplace, health
discrimination, weight, workplace, health

Weight-based harassment and discrimination are real — and getting worse. Listening to employees is a good start to addressing it.

More than 40% of U.S. adults report experiencing weight-related stigma at some point in their lives. In the workplace, this can take the form of teasing, taunting and microaggressions. Research has found that as obesity rates have risen in the United States, so too has weight discrimination.

With nearly 1 in 3 U.S. adults classified as overweight, and more than 2 in 5 meeting the clinical definition of obesity, it follows that a significant number of people in today’s workforce are likely to face weight-based workplace discrimination, potentially harming their job opportunities and career advancement.

According to recent SHRM research on the state of weight discrimination in the workplace, 72% of U.S. employees who have experienced unfair treatment at work due to their weight say it has made them feel like quitting their jobs, and 11% of HR professionals say an applicant’s weight has played a role in decisions their organizations have made during the job application process.

Addressing healthcare and weight bias

“You see weight discrimination in hiring and in determinations of promotions and salary,” said Patricia Nece, a retired federal employee who served as the chairperson of the board of directors with the Obesity Action Coalition, a nonprofit based in Tampa, Florida, that actively fights weight bias, stigma, and discrimination.

“There’s also a third area: the healthcare that is offered to people who want to do something about their weight through employee health plans,” Nece said. “It’s not the same as anyone with another type of disease.”

Nece encourages business leaders to review their health insurance policies to ensure they’re providing options for employees who wish to address their weight. She says healthcare plans should include anti-obesity medications, which employers have been increasingly considering in recent months. Nece also says these plans should include intensive behavioral therapy and nutritional counseling.

Employers that proactively address weight-based discrimination in the workplace and adopt a no-tolerance policy toward it can make it easier for their employees of all sizes to take advantage of development opportunities and succeed in their careers, uninhibited by the fallout of harassment and discrimination.

Employee education is a good place to begin. Nece, who has been obese since childhood, said, “Most people have no idea about the many challenges larger-bodied people face in every phase of our lives.” Shining a light on that is a solid start.

This article originally appeared on

Next article