In Victoria, Texas, the Citizens Medical Center has implemented a hiring policy that is “virtually unheard of” in the medical field: All potential employees must have a body mass index of less than 35. As explained by The Texas Tribune, a BMI of 35 translates roughly to a weight of 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5, and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-10.
The Tribune reports that applicants for positions at Citizens Medical are screened by a physician “to assess their fitness for work,” including their BMI. David Brown, the CEO of the hospital said that while some obese job candidates have been turned away since the policy was implemented, existing workers who become obese over the course of their employment are not terminated. Brown also said that the hospital “also offers to help heavy job candidates get their body mass index down. We have some people who are applicants and they know the requirements, and we try and help them get there but they’re not interested,” he said. “So that’s fine, they can go work somewhere else.”
Although some hospitals have policies against hiring workers who use tobacco on the grounds that their health insurance is too expensive, the Citizens Medical policy does not invoke such reasoning for its ban on obese new employees. Rather, the policy specifically states that an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional.” Brown adds that
The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance. … We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.
So, is it legal for this Texas hospital to discriminate against job applicants based on obesity? According to the Tribune, it is indeed legal as only the state of Michigan and six U.S. cities ban currently discrimination against the overweight in hiring.
In this commentary, Suzanne Lucas notes that even if the policy is lawful, it is still misguided, as ”obese” per BMI standards is not what you might think it is. Lucas links to a set of photographs of people along with their BMIs, and observes that some people with a BMI over 35 do not even appear to be particularly overweight. Moreover, she says, it is simply bad policy for a host of reasons, including the fact that the employer will miss out on some great candidates.
Legal Blog Watch is an affiliate of the Daily Business Review.