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Can forklift drivers be legally fired for being too fat? Yes, according to a recent court ruling in Australia.
An Australian court has thrown out an appeal from a forklift operator who fired because he was deemed too fat to safely perform his job.
A Danger to Himself?
The driver, Ranui Parahi, weighed about 363 pounds when working as a forklift operator for Parmalat, a dairy company in Sydney. An occupational therapist hired by the dairy’s owners determined that Parahi was at “medium to high risk” and possibly incapable of performing his job duties safely due to his weight.
Citing a cardiologist’s diagnosis that Parahi suffered from “severe obstructive sleep apnea”, the occupational therapist recommended that the forklift operator be transferred to “semi-sedentary work”. Instead, the company suspended him in June 2014 until he could lose weight.
But when he was reassessed eight months later, his weight had actually ballooned to about 385 pounds. Parahi eventually was fired in May of this year, even though his weight at that point had slightly decreased.
Parahi appealed to the Fair Work Commission, claiming that he was unfairly fired.
But the government board disagreed, ruling that “the applicant’s weight exceeded the weight safety rating for him to operate the forklifts,” according to local news reports.
The board ruled that the company was within its rights to fire Parahi because he had an “incapacity concerning the inherent requirements of his position.”
Could It Happen Here?
While the Australian labor board backed the company’s dismissal of its overweight forklift operator, could the same thing happen here? Or are US workers legally protected against discrimination based on their weight in the same way they are for their sex, religion, or race?
While there are no known test cases, a US company could probably get away with firing a fat forklift operator if they have clearly stated work rules or a job description that details that operators must fall into a specific weight class in order to qualify for the job.
For example, court rulings have backed up Las Vegas casinos for enforcing weight restrictions on cocktail servers — as long as the server acknowledge in writing that they understand and agree to comply with the work rules prior to their enforcement.
And police departments have been allowed to limit the applicants based on their age, legally rejecting those who are too old to safely perform the job duties.
Implications for US Forklift Drivers
Does that mean that US forklift operators need to avoid jelly donuts and other fatty foods or risk losing their jobs? Probably not. Obviously, US workers are not bound by decisions made by a foreign labor board.
And while it’s always a good idea to eat well and take care of your health, unless there are specific work rules in place at their job site — and they have acknowledged and agreed to comply with rules regulating body weight — overweight forklift operators probably have nothing to worry about.