This HR Fatty Wants To Give Someone A Fat Lip

I was working out…yes, working out when a CNN news report flashed up that Citizens Medical Center in Victoria, Texas enacted a policy refusing to hire anyone with a body mass index higher than 35.  I thought I was about to come unglued.  Or grab a pint of chunky-monkey.

Holy crap.

I am an HR Fatty.  I have a BMI of 28.  I am technically considered “overweight” and not “obese”, but obese is a neighbor of mine. I still fit into airplane seats but I won’t be gracing the cover of any magazines.  I’m about 20 lbs overweight but in my opinion wear it pretty well.  I love how Starr Tincup’s Steve Smith, also in the “obese” ball-bark, preferred to call himself “Falstonian” (nice). BUT, I can still do my job well. My mother would say very well.

What a backwards, self-righteous, inhumane policy.  Apparently the world thought so too.  According to Yahoo, Citizens Medical Center CEO David Brown did suspend this policy.  Good.  But I still feel like I’ve been punched in the gut. My overweight one.

This policy is so mean-spirited I don’t know where to begin.  This policy, according to reports, was not enacted to promote wellness or save on employee benefits costs.  This policy was enacted to enhance image.  Here is what CEO David Brown quoted originally about the policy:

… an employee’s physique “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” including an appearance “free from distraction” for hospital patients…

Unbelievable.  Obese people are a distraction.  Guess we need a new distraction now that African-Americans, women and homosexuals aren’t so distracting anymore.  What nonsense.  If the hospitals CHRO wrote this policy, he/she should quit; if they did not write the policy or couldn’t stop the policy, they should RUN from this place.  I’d rather pull weeds for a living than deal with this level of stupidity.

Why nonsense:

  • If that obese neurosurgeon can remove that brain tumor from my head….I don’t care if he is a Hutt (aka Jabba).  I say hooray no matter what your weight.
  • BMI is not considered an accurate measurement of health.  Guess who else has BMI’s of 35 or more….body builders. Pretty healthy folks most of the time.
  • This is an unnecessary distraction for all of the talent management folks and hiring decision makers.  This takes necessary focus away from finding candidates with the best skills to the most attractive.
  • Can you imagine having to be the HR BMI police?  “Ok now that you’ve made it through your interviews we need to do a social security, criminal, credit and um, er… a BMI check.  Can you please give me your height and weight?” This thought makes me shiver.
  • This policy and mindset will scare away any, any A-Player candidates. Who, in their right mind, would feel comfortable working for an organization with such a lack of respect for employees?
  • This direction will certainly hurt business in the long run.  Why?  What obese patient would EVER want to come to this facility?  How humiliating for any patient to set foot in a place where they may feel they are a distraction too.  Also happy employees make happy customers.
  • What data did Citizen’s Medical gather proving that obese people were a distraction at this facility?  What business need can they prove warranted this?  How much revenue was actually lost due to distracting fat employees?   Image is not a credible business reason in this case.
  • This opens the door to discrimination lawsuits from obese people considered disabled.  And could create a disparate impact scenario against certain minority groups.  These obesity rates from 2010 show African-American and Hispanics rates approximately 10% higher than White rates.  This policy could inadvertently discriminate against those groups.

This also raises so many other questions like what would they do with current obese employees?  Fire them?  What happens if an employee gains weight while employed?  Are there weekly weigh-ins?  What if someone gets pregnant and gains weight?  What if one of your employees is ill and gets treated with medications that cause weight gain?  Holy crap – the list goes on and on.

This is an HR tragedy in every sense of the word.   Policy or no policy, I have a feeling that these “legal” discriminatory practices must have some life to them behind closed doors.  I thought we’d come further than that.

FOT Background Check

Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke is an HR Leader, speaker and writer, specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture.  Her HR career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, Alabama's award-winning technology company, Daxko. That’s right – the very DAXKO that our very own KD is an alum of, because there are only so many people in the big B’ham who are worthy of a VP of People title. A true Generalist, she’s done a little bit of everything, but recruiting and training is where she gets her mojo. She’s based in the good ol' blogging capitol of the south, Birmingham, Alabama, where you can frequently find her listening to the Beatles and REM, watching Breaking Bad reruns (and Snapped and Dateline), enjoying serious amounts of coffee (and cheese, but not together!), dreaming of where she will travel next, and wondering how in the world this theatre grad ever got into football or HR…Check out her blog at or talk to Dawn via emailLinkedIn, Instagram or Twitter


  1. laurie says:

    This is a good book from a former writing partner of mine:

  2. Steve Gifford

    Suzanne Lucas had a good observation on this topic: if they’re going to be totally fair, they should also take issue with candidates that have dangerously *low* BMI’s.

    • Holland Dombeck McCue
      hdombeck says:

      You beat me to this point, Steve. Excellent observation, that sadly is not discussed enough in these debates.

  3. reagan says:

    I’m a healthcare professional and I think this is a ridiculous hiring policy. How about instead of opening the hospital up to a possible discrimination lawsuit, they just promote better health among their employees. Add free or discounted gym memberships, consults with the staff dietitian, etc to the employee benefits at the hospital? I agree with Steve Gifford above that low BMI should be a target of these policies as well…but not of hiring policies…of health promotion policies within the company.

  4. I wrote about this not too long ago… but on the opposing side. I flew in a candidate for a Director of Nutrition position with a large healthcare district that included several campuses, two of them quite large.
    I had not seen the candidate, only conducted several phone interviews, as had the VP of HR for the H/C District.

    This particular candidate weighed over 400 pounds and struggled to get around during the initial hospital tour. I heard about it immediately, before the tour was even completed…
    This is a healthcare district which has in place what Reagan suggests: employee incentives for staying healthy, a massive community nutritional outreach, and even a couple health clubs for free employee access. He was not a good candidate/placement for this position.

    I am about 20 pounds overweight. I am happy with my size and enjoy having fewer wrinkles because my face is fuller. But I am a Marketing Director with a Recruiting background and I am not out promoting good health to 4,500 employees and a whole county,

    If the weight of the individual precludes them from doing a particular job well, is it wrong to establish parameters? I do not find this offensive or discriminatory. A friend once told me, “You wouldn’t hire a stripper that wasn’t sexy.” There are certain requirements for each position. A Director of Nutrition for a huge healthcare district needs to be active and healthy, my candidate was not.

    I don’t think it is unreasonable to expect a professional who works in a healthcare facility or for a healthcare organization to have a healthy appearance. Can anyone reading this deny that being obese is unhealthy?

    **And I am not picking on unsexy strippers, either.

  5. Frannyo says:

    My wife is an RN at the premier cancer hospital in the US. She works the stem-cell floor. All the nurses on this floor get recruiter calls from all over due to their expertise and the name brand recognition of their workplace, but retention is high, I think because they take so much pride in their ability to provide this cutting-edge science at this particular well-respected hospital.
    Wifey has recieved accolade after accolade for her expertise and for her unstinting compassion for both the patients and their families. She’s also obese. As are, frankly, most of her peers, despite the fact that they’re on their feet 12 hours a day. Aside from the legal implications, the idea of adding such an irrelevant factor to a role that’s so difficult to recruit for, particularly in a small town in south Texas, seems like Really. Crappy. Business. Common sense went out the window, here. If I were their recruiting lead, I’d recognize that I was being set up to fail and run for the hills. Or at least for Houston.

  6. Steve Boese says:

    And the signs says long hair freaky people need not apply…

    Super post, Dawn.

  7. Nick says:

    Dawn, I’m on the fence with this issue. I agree with you that BMI is a completely inappropriate qualification for hire. However, I agree with Rayanne that in some professions part of establishing confidence and credibility is being an example of what you are promoting. I don’t have any problem telling my sales reps to shave or remove excess piercings – they are promoting a professional product.

    Personally, I don’t think that extra cushion would distract any customers in any profession. That being said, I can understand some consideration being made to any distractors in extremely image-centered industries/careers (morbid obesity included).

    For your sake, there is a huge difference between BMI 28 and 35 (no pun intended). Additionally, a nutritionist friend tells me that the technical overweight/obese definitions are completely wrong.

  8. KD says:

    Can I be the HR geek for a second? On both sides?

    First up, eliminate people with large BMIs, and you’re going to lose some great people – so that as a broad stroke doesn’t work.

    That said, I think Rayanne is on point – not all positions are created equal related to us not caring. Sometimes it matters. Not often at all – but occasionally…

    The broader view of this is that there really aren’t any levers that a company has to help incent people to really take care of themselves. GINAs eliminated the ability to bring employee contributions down for people who make great progress on becoming healthier. I wish there was more we could do to reward and recognize people who make life changing efforts.

    Why hasn’t anyone linked the Chris Farley/Chippendales tryout? It’s Friday, so I’m going for it – love this clip, and you know what? If Farley would really dance like that he really deserves a spot on that team, regardless of BMI –


  9. Barbra says:

    Weight is only one of many indicators that determine health. And it is not even a good indicator (an overweight person with great muscle strength, flexibility and cardiovascular health, is healthier than a non-overweight person who never exercises). To single weight out as the only indicator of health is ignorant and discriminatory.

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