(Last Updated On: June 14, 2023)
Federal & Massachusetts state laws protect workers from discrimination based on age, gender, sex, ability, race, religion, genetic information, color or citizenship status, and even hairstyles, but there is currently no safeguard against body size discrimination. Sen. Becca Raush, D-Needham, and Rep. Tram Nguyen, D-Andover introduced Bill S.1108 into the Massachusetts Legislature that aims to change that.
Defining Body Size Discrimination
Body size discrimination refers to the unfair treatment or prejudice individuals face based on their physical appearance, particularly their weight or body shape. Strategic Training Initiative for the Prevention of Eating Disorders (STRIPES) faculty member Amanda Raffoul noted to Boston.com “People that experience weight discrimination are more likely to have poor mental and physical health outcomes… In terms of the mental health outcomes, folks that experience weight discrimination are more likely to develop eating disorders, have disordered eating, as well as anxiety, depression, and social isolation.”
In the workplace, this discrimination can manifest in various ways, such as bias in hiring, promotions, or unfair treatment in terms of job assignments and opportunities. It can also lead to a hostile work environment and negatively impact an individual’s self-esteem, mental well-being, and overall job satisfaction.
Introducing Bill S.1108: An Act Prohibiting Body Size Discrimination
Bill S.1108 represents a significant step forward in the prevention of body size discrimination. Its key provisions aim to prohibit employers from engaging in discriminatory practices based on an individual’s body size. The bill acknowledges the importance of fostering inclusive and diverse work environments where individuals are judged based on their qualifications, skills, and abilities, rather than their physical appearance.
If passed, Massachusetts would be the second state, with the first being Michigan, with such legislation. However, New Jersey, New York, and Vermont have introduced similar bills this session, New York City and other municipalities have passed body size discrimination regulations, and Washington state provides some protections against obesity discrimination via its disability legislature. While Bill S.1108 comes over a decade after the first bill relating to size discrimination was introduced in the Massachusetts Legislature, Sen. Raush believes that the bill will pass.
Analyzing the Implications
Beyond bias in hiring and other opportunities and outright harassment, if Bill S.1108 is passed, Massachusetts businesses will need to reassess their company policies, particularly their healthcare programs. Chair of the National Association for the Advancement of Fat People, Tigress Osborn sheds light on how these systems are often discriminatory based on body size because they provide incentives to lose weight. “That means that people who are not, or cannot or choose not to lose weight, are actually being penalized in their compensation,” she said.
The Path Ahead
As of now, Bill S.1108 is under consideration in the Massachusetts legislature. The bill has the potential to significantly impact the lives of individuals affected by body size discrimination, fostering a more inclusive and equitable work environment.
Employees and employers alike should familiarize themselves with the provisions of the bill and understand their rights and obligations. Seeking legal counsel, such as the experienced team at Rodman Employment Law, can provide guidance and ensure compliance as Massachusetts employment law continues to evolve. By working together, employees and employers can create a workplace environment that is fair, inclusive, and free from body size discrimination.