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I admit this not a practical situation I'm currently facing, nonetheless I've been wondering about this for quite a long time already.

Salad Story is a food chain somewhat similar to Subway, except that instead of sandwiches they serve salads. Like Subway, SaladStory establishemnts have a long counter divided into sections and when a client orders a salad an employee will assemble the ordered dish, gathering ingredients from shelves under the counter. If there are many clients in the same time and multiple employees are serving clients simultaneously then many employees may need to access the same section (eg the secion with vegetables) at the same time.

As a customer I was looking with curiosity at one certain obese employee. She was serving clients as well as any other employee, but then I tried to imagine how many employees can, at the same time, gather vegetables from that section of the counter. I concluded that four of the thin people working there could fit at the same time; if the fat one was there then only two other thin people could fit; and if there was another employee that fat then only two of them could serve vegetables at the same time. Basically, that fat employee had the size of two people of normal weight.

At the local bakery and confectionery store I saw a similar situation. Out of all employees working there one was very obese and another one was somewhat overweight. I saw they had trouble passing each other when they were both working behind the counter. So this was not only my imaginary problem, but it seemed to me (as a customer) that this was a very real problem that stemmed from these two employees size alone.

Assume that an employee at such a gastronomic establishment is otherwise flawless. They have no trouble at physical work such as sweeping, mopping, walking from section to section to serve customers; they are friendly and customers like them; nonetheless the employees obesity means that their size alone (rather than any other possible issues) becomes problematic.

Can, in such a situation, the employer request that the employee loses weight? Or would such a request be unacceptable from the employer?

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    I’m voting to close this question because it probably belongs on Law.SE
    – Ertai87
    Mar 10 at 21:26
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    My suggestion would be that the next time you have one of these meandering, existential thought exercises, that you keep it to yourself.
    – joeqwerty
    Mar 10 at 21:29
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    @joeqwerty Why obey a taboo and ignore real problems? If I asked this question posing as an employer who faces this very situation, would you reaction be different?
    – gaazkam
    Mar 10 at 21:32
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    @gaazkam - It’s not a real problem. Keeping your thoughts about obese people only benefits you. An employer would absolutely crazy to fire an obese employee if they were a good employee. Good employees are hard to find.
    – Donald
    Mar 10 at 21:51
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    @gaazkam perhaps it is the counter or the salad assembly line the ones lacking sufficient space for any employee to move comfortably. I think that in this case the size/weight of the employee is not the problem and that perhaps you are overthinking this one a bit
    – DarkCygnus
    Mar 11 at 0:41

4 Answers 4

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In the US, employment relationships are typically at-will, meaning an employer can generally fire someone for any reason or no reason at all, so long as the reason doesn't relate to one of a few protected characteristics like sex, age, religion, race, or disability. Being overweight is not a protected category in most cases, so it would typically not be illegal for an employer to require an employee to lose weight and to terminate them if they didn't. If the employee's weight is related is an underlying disability, however, the issue becomes more complex. Some locales at the state or city level have outlawed weight discrimination, but it is rather uncommon.

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With the example you cited, it would be risky to do so.

In the US, obesity by itself is not considered a disability under the ADA, unless that condition is "caused by an underlying physiological disorder or condition" of some kind. In which case, that employee could ask for a reasonable accommodation from their employer.

And in the example you cited, it would be reasonable to have them work in a different section of the store, or to allow them more time to do work-related tasks, or to move some of the shelves/counters/ingredients around to allow them for more space.

And since employers do not really know if obesity is a symptom of a medical condition, or not, it's a potential minefield to even talk about. They would only address the performance issues directly, assuming there were any. And they would not focus on the weight or size unless it was an absolutely critical requirement of the job.

With that said, since most states in the US have "at will" employment, this also means that unscrupulous employers who don't like some employees are able to fire such employees without giving any reason at all.

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This is an interesting question about a contentious subject.

Now, for reference, I peaked at 130Kg and at time of writing I'm under 100 and still on my weightloss journey. In short, I know what it's like to be Morbidly Obese.

As a general rule - if it doesn't directly impact your ability to do your job, then you have no grounds to make any requests.

Where it gets interesting is the indirect impact on your job.

For example - let's use a hypothetical - it's a fashion shop and you have 2 shifts who alternate on the same day - one team is made of people at peak physical appearance (toned, lean etc.) and the other isn't. Now imagine that as a Business owner you notice that when the overweight team is on, that there's a 30% drop in sales (this is hypothetical).

Does the Business owner now have a justifiable interest? This is essentially the rationale behind having Supermodels look the way they do (Side note - bring back the 80s Super Models) - I want to stress here - I'm not advocating for this or saying that it is 'right' - only giving a scenario.

If it is indeed the case that an Individuals size is making working conditions difficult because they are blocking other people from doing their Job, then you may have a legitimate interest in making that request....

BUT!

Before you make such a request, you need to be prepared for a potential Lawsuit. I mean that seriously. You have to ask yourself 'Is this request worth the cost of an unfair dismissal suit' - because even if you Win, you still loose.

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Can, in such a situation, the employer request that the employee loses weight?

It would be inappropriate at best, but it could be anything from morale draining to being the last straw that triggers someone to take their own life, it's their job on the line. People who are at any extreme physically and particularly women may be handling enormous stress already just living.

It has no positive potential that could possibly outweigh that, so I suggest you don't do it.

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