No, You Shouldn’t “Discriminate Against Fat People” When You’re Hiring Someone
5:37 pm, October 26th | by Amy Tennery
An article today from Business Insider claims that it’s logistically advantageous for employers to “(quietly) discriminate against fat people,” because they’ll allegedly cost your company more money than a person of a healthy weight.
The article doesn’t get into the moral implications of this advice — and, in fact, argues for more “legislation to protect against health discrimination” given the apparent impetus to discriminate in this way. So we won’t get into the moral reprehensibility of this either (we could be here all day).
But, morality aside, what we are scratching our heads over is the logic of this statement.
First, let’s back up. The article argues that, according to Gallup data, full-time employees who are “overweight and have other chronic health conditions” miss more work, causing “$153 billion in lost productivity.”
Except, that’s not what the data show.
The Gallup poll shows that overweight workers in the U.S. with no chronic conditions account for $513 million in losses from missed work days, while those who are overweight and have one or more “chronic conditions” account for around $113.5 billion. So that’s around $114 billion, for people who are “overweight and have other chronic health conditions.” Where did the other billions go?
The $153 billion figure that Business Insider uses does include overweight people who also have chronic health conditions — but it also contains the cost of lost productivity for “normal weight” workers who have one or more “chronic conditions.”
In fact, that boogeyman figure for people who are “overweight and have other chronic health conditions” is actually almost $40 billion overblown in their article, when you subtract all the so-called “normal weight” costs. That’s more than a quarter of the total $153 billion figure.
Now, I realize that still leaves 75 percent of the total — and that’s a lot. But what about those “normal weight people” who have one or more health conditions? They make up about 20 percent of the total, full-time working population, according to Gallup data. And their health conditions include the following: “having ever been diagnosed with a heart attack, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, cancer, diabetes, asthma, or depression; and recurring physical pain in the neck or back or knee or leg in the last 12 months.”
(Of course, the report also states “being overweight or obese” as a “chronic condition,” so admittedly the data set is a little confusing. But since we’re unaware of anyone who can be simultaneously “normal weight” and “overweight,” the $153 billion figure Business Insider put out cannot be right.)
Those are the people allegedly costing us all $40 billion. But those are the tricky ones to spot, right? Which leads us to a kind of thoroughbred vetting approach to hiring that is dangerous. Yes it’s dangerous to your morality, but (if we’re sticking to just logistics here) it’s also dangerous to your bottom line. Someone isn’t chipper enough in the interview? Must be depressed. Axe ‘em. Rubbed his neck during the employment test? “Recurring physical pain!” Thanks for playing.
The cold truth is that it’s impossible to know how much your employee is going to cost you. Maybe that “normal weighted” person has a drinking problem that interferes with his work. Maybe that guy with perfectly reasonable blood pressure has an addiction to eBay and spends the afternoon buying antique lamps. Yes, sure, there’s data to back up the theory that overweight people cost CEOs more than, say, someone with asthma. But if you’re playing by that logic, you’d have to “(quietly)” discriminate against every woman of child-bearing age, also, right? Surely we must cost more than asthma care.
The point is, discriminating against people hurts your bottom line as much as it hurts your karma. Because by omitting all the people who’ve ever been diagnosed with cancer, all the people who’ve suffered a knee injury in the last 12 months, all the people who have diabetes and, yes, all people who are medically classified as “overweight,” you’re going to miss out on the best and brightest.