We read a great comment in response to our post “Weight Bias Is Alive And Well.” Maria Hanna Joseph, an attorney/mediator in the Boston area, addressing the issue of weight and appearance bias, has carefully written a very succinct and balanced statement of the very purposes of employment anti-discrimination laws.
But you be the judge.
“Employment law is generally based on safeguarding the right to earn a living, provide for and take care of oneself, balanced against employers’ rights to business viability. At the root of employment protections are things individuals can’t control yet pose barriers to being part of the workforce and a significant part of society.
Attractiveness seems to be one such quality, and I see weight bias falling under the umbrella of “attractiveness bias” or “appearance bias” (see, Unattractiveness – The Next Workplace Protected Class? at https://employmentdiscrimination.foxrothschild.com/2012/07/articles/another-category/unattractiveness-the-next-workplace-protected-class/).
I’m a firm believer that places of employment – be it from the viewpoint of the employee or patron – are at the forefront of determining social norms, positive and negative. This is because workplaces make up the hub of human interaction. Standards established at the level of the workforce, therefore, tend to radiate more quickly and pervasively than through any other portal I can think of.
To the extent a bias affects a large enough demographic (admittedly hard to qualify or quantify), I like to see protections extended, such as to features that go beyond what may be considered subjectively or stereotypically “attractive” and are immutable (available surgery not withstanding), though have no appearance-based relevance to work performance.
The qualities that are deemed attractive are not necessarily the same as qualities pertaining to hygiene, neatness, or even workplace-appropriate wardrobe/cosmetic choices, for example. For the most part these are not immutable and one can envision their potential for having a negative impact on work and market environments in terms of workforce interaction and productivity and/or customer attraction. I also think they’re things over which an employer could fairly render an employment-based decision and have a balanced right of protection.
In short, one’s natural-born features, alone, ought not be barriers to attaining or retaining employment.”