the following is an Editorial from the Chicago Tribune. With the recent ruling by the European Union (EU) court, thought this would be an interesting another view point...
Chicago Tribune Editorial | Dec. 30, 2014
Chicago Tribune Editorial | Dec. 30, 2014
This time of year, endless opportunities to overindulge can test the willpower of anyone who does not want to put on pounds. At the end of the holidays, some people will be congratulating themselves on their self-restraint, while some will feel guilty about giving in and resolve to do better in 2015.
Avoiding obesity is simple in theory, if not easy, and most of us think it should be a matter of individual decisions, with individual consequences. The European Union’s Court of Justice, though, wants to ease the burden of bad choices. It recently ruled that obesity may qualify as a disability that employers must accommodate.
The case involved a 350-pound child care worker who said he was fired because of his weight. Although the court didn’t resolve his case, it affirmed that though “no general principle of EU law prohibits, in itself, discrimination on grounds of obesity, that condition falls within the concept of ‘disability’ where, under particular conditions, it hinders the full and effective participation of the person concerned in professional life on an equal basis with other workers …”
This is not exactly an untried concept. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has interpreted the 2008 amendments to the Americans with Disabilities Act to mean obesity can qualify as a condition that has protection against employer discrimination.
So the evolving European policy could very well cross the Atlantic — that is, if it hasn’t already. In 2012, a Texas court ruled against a company that fired a 600-pound materials handler without first trying to find ways to help him perform his duties. This year a federal court in Missouri, considering a lawsuit by a man who said he was fired for his severe obesity, agreed that the revised ADA may apply to him.
There are obvious objections to this line of thinking. One is that it flies in the face of what the ADA was meant to do — help people with serious physical and mental impairments, like paralysis and blindness, be productive members of society.
Had Congress wanted to include the obese — and publicize that inclusion to the American public — it could have made that step unmistakably clear. It didn’t. The EEOC, however, thinks the 2008 amendments offer enough latitude to suit its purposes.
One problem with its approach is that it could greatly expand the number of people classified as disabled. One in 3 adult Americans is obese, and nearly 7 percent — more than 15 million people — are morbidly obese. A lot of employers might have to undertake costly investments to accommodate their needs. That would be a huge expansion of a law that once appeared to be narrowly targeted.
The expansion is also at odds with the basic idea of the ADA: empowering people who are the unfortunate victims of fate. Obesity is usually the result of individual decisions, and it can be ameliorated by individual decisions. Those facts argue for leaving the government out of this realm.
No one pretends that healthy choices are easy. But the fact remains that people can avoid weight gain, or achieve weight loss, by eating less and exercising more. Blind people, by contrast, can’t get their sight back by any form of self-discipline. No amount of willpower can give a paraplegic the ability to walk.
If employers must accommodate the requirements of obese workers, are they also entitled to adopt policies to prevent workers from becoming obese? Could they require all employees to make regular gym visits, or run 15 miles a week, to keep their jobs? Once companies are forced to make changes to benefit individuals with serious weight problems, they will have strong incentives to meddle in personal lifestyles.
Providing exceptional treatment to people with a common, curable condition isn’t a good way to encourage self-discipline, which ultimately is the only way to control weight. It’s more like a shortsighted indulgence we will come to regret.