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Should employers discriminate based on workers' waistlines?

Can obese people be discriminated against by potential employers?

EuToch/Getty Images/iStockphoto

No facial piercings. No fluorescent-coloured hair. No extra centimetres around the waistband?

Citizens Medical Center, a hospital in Victoria, Texas, has come under fire over for its controversial hiring policy that turns away obese job applicants. According to CBS News, Victoria Hospital says it does not hire anyone with a body mass index (BMI) of 35 or higher. (That's about the equivalent of someone who is around 165 cm tall and weighs 95 kg).

The hospital's policy was quoted in The Texas Tribune as saying that an employee's physique "should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional," which includes having an appearance that's "free from distraction."

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As some have noted, it would seem reasonable for a health care provider to want its staff to project a healthy image, and there may also be specific jobs that require a certain level of physical health. Weeding out job applicants based on their health is not unheard of. For instance, as USA Today reported in January, a growing number of workplaces in the U.S. are banning smokers, in part, to reduce insurance premiums.

However, critics point out the hospital's hiring policy appears to be based on employees' looks rather than their health. The website Jezebel calls the policy "both crappy and unnecessary," and wonders whether frivolous rules like requiring nursing staff to have black hair might be next.

Lynn Grefe, president and chief executive of the National Eating Disorders Association, told Jezebel that restricting job applicants for health reasons doesn't hold up either.

"Employers should not have a say in their employees' health decisions," she said. "You cannot tell by looking at someone whether or not they are healthy."

How much of a say should employers have in their employees' appearance? What about in their health?

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