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Weight Discrimination Is Rife In Australia, But Should It Be Made Unlawful?

Weight discrimination is rife in Australia, but should it be made unlawful?

Weight discrimination is rife in Australian workplaces, according to recent studies.

The research shows overweight people will be less likely to be hired, are lower paid, have fewer opportunities and are often bullied.

Furthermore, it is women who fare the worst.

Massachusetts is the second state in the US to add ‘weight’ to its list of protected attributes, making discrimination unlawful.

As a result, advocates are calling for similar changes here in Australia.

More than one in four Aussies obese

The Heart Foundation confirms more than one in four adult Australians is obese.

This represents almost five million Australians aged 18-and-over with a body mass index (BMI) of 30.0kg/m2 or more.


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Public shaming does not help

Industrial advocate Miles Heffernan said public shaming of overweight people will not help them lose weight.

“Treating someone unfairly, or punishing and shaming them, is not going to them thinner,” he said.

“So, maybe it’s time we looked at our discrimination laws here too.”

What the law currently says

In Queensland, physical size is not a protected attribute under the state’s discrimination laws.

As a result, workers after often legally fired, or demoted, or refused a job because of their weight.

Despite this, there is an exception:

If a medical condition causes a person to gain weight, it can be considered impairment, and discrimination laws will apply.

Discrimination based on disability is unlawful.

The Australian Human Rights Commission says the Disability Discrimination Act covers obesity.

The law defines a ‘loss of functioning of a person’s body or part of the body’ as a disability, and therefore, a person whose weight impairs his or her functioning is covered.

Overweight workers report discrimination

One study of employment discrimination found the more overweight a person is, the more the likely they are to report discrimination in the workplace.

For example,

  • overweight workers were 12 times more likely,
  • obese respondents were 37 times more likely,
  • and severely obese respondents were 100 times more likely than normal weight respondents to report employment discrimination.

Additionally, women are also 16 times more likely to report weight related employment discrimination than men.

Companies demand their workers lose weight

Pakistan International Airlines is threatening overweight cabin with the sack of they fail to lose weight.

According to a memo issued to staff, any crew member more than 13kg over the weight limit from January 31 will not be allowed to fly.

“No one would like to have shabby crew in the aircraft,” a spokesperson said.

Other companies demand weightloss

In 2008, waitresses working at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa in Atlantic City said they had their weight “obsessively monitored” by management.

In addition, they were threatened with suspension if they gained 7 percent more weight than they had when they were hired.

Consequently, the waitresses sued the casino, but lost their case, because the state’s law is silent about weight discrimination.

In addition, a hospital in Texas imposed strict BMI limits on employees – 35, in the obese range was the cutoff.

Management said the weight rule is about meeting patients’ expectations of what a health-care provider should be like.

The proposed law change in Massachusetts 

Massachusetts politicians has introduced a bill making it illegal to discriminate on the basis of weight.

It’s very concise, simply adding “weight” (and “height”) to the list of protected categories in existing anti-discrimination law, alongside race, age, sexuality and disability.

There’s strong backing for laws banning weight discrimination from doctors, health professionals and legal scholars – and the majority of the public.

According to a study by the University of Connecticut, from 2010 to 2015, support for such provisions increased from 73 percent to 79 percent, in a representative sample of adults nationally.

In contrast, skeptics argue that unlike race or age or gender, weight is under the control of the individual.


Those who experience discrimination can claim compensation.

For specialist help and advice, please call our team at Discrimination Claims today on

1800 437 825

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