This HR Fatty Wants To Give Someone A Fat Lip

Dawn Burke Bad HR, Dawn Hrdlica, Policies

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.

Dawn Burke
Dawn Burke, founder/advisor for Dawn Burke HR, is an HR leader, speaker and writer specializing in new HR practices, engagement and workplace culture. Her HR/leadership career has spanned the last 20 years, most recently serving as VP of People for Birmingham, AL’s award-winning technology company, Daxko (And yes, Kris Dunn and Dawn are making Bham the HR capital of the world! Who knew?). You can also check her out at and a variety of other interesting places. Google her, it’ll keep you posted on what she is up to.