A Texas hospital that incorporates in its hiring policy an applicant’s body mass index -- a formula that assesses one's health based on their weight and height --- hurts patient care, critics say.
Citizens Medical Center, located in Victoria, requires its employees "fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including having an appearance “free from distraction” for patients, according to the Texas Tribune newspaper.
Potential employees must have a BMI of less than 35 (185 lbs for someone who is 5-1; or 265 lbs for someone who is 6-1), according to the newspaper.
But is this legal? In Texas and most states, yes.
“The policy is not against Texas law," Daniel S. Hamermesh, an economics professor at the University of Texas at Austin and the author of “Beauty Pays: Why Attractive People Are More Successful,” told HLN. "But I wouldn’t be surprised to see a lawsuit challenging the policy under the federal Americans with Disability Act."
Critics say the weight requirement not only discriminates against perfectly able and highly skilled workers who may be a bit on the chunky side, but it also exposes the scant legal protection afforded to obese workers.
A call to Citizens Medical Center CEO David Brown by HLN was not returned, but in an interview with the Tribune, Brown defended the hospital’s policy as one that caters to its patients. “The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” he said. “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."
Peggy Howell, spokeswoman for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance, told HLN that the requirement raised a number of questions that expose the hospital as discriminatory. “This new policy is a clear example of weight bias and fat hatred. How will their fat patients be treated if they are requiring their employees to meet a BMI requirement?"
An awry BMI may not be obviously apparent from appearances, Hamermesh said. He cautioned that the rule, enacted about a year ago, will curtail the hospital's ability to hire skilled workers. "The policy will exclude some workers who do not appear morbidly obese; as such, it will prevent the hospital from hiring some desirable workers and will limit its ability to attract acceptable employees.”
Howell said the policy raised some provocative questions regarding workplace atmosphere and employee retention. “Does this policy affect those that currently work there? What about promotional opportunities for those who wouldn't have met the new BMI cut-off? How will they be perceived? What type of work environment are they creating? This type of practice will create a very unhealthy work environment with employees fearing for their jobs if they gain a little weight (eating disorders, stress, food policing, bullying, etc.) And won't this then give those employees the opportunity to sue because of the hostile work environment?”
Brown told the newspaper that the hospital tries to work with potential employees that are overweight. “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.”
HLN readers, we want to hear from you: How would you feel about a workplace that dictated weight standards for its employees?