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Is Obesity A Disability?

Not unless the condition results from an underlying physical disorder, according to a recent ruling from the Court of Appeals in the Eighth Circuit. 

In the case in question, a man had been offered a machinist job, contingent on a post-hire medical review. The man, who had claimed on his application to suffer no medical impairments, later lost the job when the medical review revealed that his BMI was greater than 40, which would disqualify him for the position based on the health and safety risks inherent in the position. The man sued, citing discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). However, because he had cited no medical impairments during the interview process, and his doctor had confirmed that he had no medical conditions that would limit his activities, the case was dismissed. The man appealed, arguing that he should, in fact, qualify as disabled. 

The court disagreed, however, ruling that in order for a condition to qualify as a disability, there must be an underlying physical impairment. In other words, there would have had to have been a physiological reason for the man's obesity in order for him to be qualified as disabled. 

While employers can't discriminate against employees on the basis of established disabilities, they can still legally make decisions based on characteristics that they judge might contribute to future injuries, thus thwarting potential workers' compensation claims that might arise in the future. 

In the workplace, the interplay of disability and injury can become a complicated matter, particularly where it involves a claim for compensation. If you have questions about a workplace injury or termination that may involve a pre-existing disability, contact an experienced attorney to discuss your options. 

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