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INSIGHT

Discrimination against the obese in the medical workplace

By Steve M. Cohen  bio

In the news recently was a discussion about a hospital that established a policy that it would not hire anyone who applied for a job whose Body Mass Index was greater than 30. While that sounds simple, it hides a whole range of issues.

As most medical professionals know, a BMI score above 30 means you are considered obese. Although I’m all for fitness, that’s a pretty low bar for a very definite label. A 35-year-old jogger might have a BMI of 20 or 25! There are other issues, as well.

The pundits and commentators were startled to learn that such a policy is NOT illegal under the Department of Labor’s rules. Almost anything else that employers try to do to employees is illegal, but discrimination against the obese is not. The pundits and commentators described the policy as “wrong- headed” and bad. They were speculating regarding the motivation of the hospital executives in designing the policy, and suggested it might have something to do with the hospital’s image. Some even suggest that a policy like this would mean the employer would close themselves off from hiring the “best and the brightest.”

Health care institutions are certainly interested in their image. What they care about more, though, is establishing a healthy and health-conscience environment and obese people are not healthy. Additionally, hospitals, like all other businesses, care about controlling costs and their bottom line. Having obese employees negatively impacts costs and the bottom line.

Obese employees are more expensive to care for when they get hurt or injured. Bariatric caregiving is already a big burden in the way of equipment: oversized beds, chairs, lifts, etc. are even more expensive to buy then the normal sized stuff. Obese employees often get hurt more often because their bones, joints, and heart are overburdened by their size; often have less energy, and are often slower than their counterparts with normal BMI scores. Obesity is often (not always) the result of lifestyle choices like smoking. Smokers cost more to insure and to treat (medically) then nonsmokers. The same is true of the obese.

It is not surprising that employers try to reduce their exposure to higher costs by discriminating against the obese or smokers. They should, however, make sure they do so correctly.


Steve M. Cohen, Ed.D., CMC is President/Partner of Labor Management Advisory Group, Inc. and HR Solutions: On-Call, both based in Kansas City, MO. For more information, visit www.laborgroup.com or call (913) 927-0229.


The above information is shared by a guest contributor and does not necessarily reflect the views of Medical Office Manager.

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