Tattoo girl

Obese people need not apply – and other questionable hiring bans

Peter Harris|

A Texas hospital has found itself in hot water over a controversial new recruitment policy. They won’t hire fat people. The Texas Tribune reports that the Citizens Medical Center requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 — which is 100 kilograms for someone who is five and a half feet tall and 112 kgs for someone who is 5 foot 10.

The policy states that employees “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional.” In other words, fit people only.   ”Patients have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” explains hospital chief executive David Brown. “We have the ability as an employer to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”

The Citizens Medical Center is currently being sued by two heavy-set doctors turned down from employment because of their weight.

Some other questionable hiring policies that have been making news lately:

No smoking … ever

We all know that smoking is unhealthy. And as retro-cool as the Mad Men look, most people wouldn’t want to be working in offices that were clouded with smoke. However a growing list of workplaces are refusing to hire workers who smoke… even on their own time. New hires are screened for nicotine use at hiring and on the job. This practice is most common in hospitals and healthcare related jobs. The Canadian Cancer Society, for example, only hires non-smokers.

More recently however, even casinos (places frankly more likely to be smoke-filled than anywhere else on Earth) have started to rule out people who smoke even at home.   

Unemployed? Stay that way

In the height of the recession, with many people struggling to find jobs, many companies raised eyebrows with hiring policies that excluded the out-of-work. One company in particular made headlines for including the line “No unemployed candidates will be considered at all,” right in their job postings. They later apologized.

Still numerous companies persist with a bias towards currently-employed candidates, believing that there is always a chance that the unemployed are out of work for a reason concerning their personality, work ethic or skills. This is of course a short-sighted and unfair preconception in a time of mass layoffs and prolonged high unemployment.

Think before you ink

Tattoos used to be seen as outlaw symbols, sported primarily by bikers, sailors and criminals. While they have long held a much more prominent place in the mainstream, some of that old stigma remains.

This is especially true amongst older workers as only 10% of Baby Boomers have tattoos, compared with 40% of Gen Xers and 36% of Gen Yers.

While many employers have policies that do not allow visible tattoos, these rules vary widely by industry. Visible tattoos are particularly frowned upon in the conservative banking and financial industries. Tattoos also frequently prevent people from being hired in the service industry, particularly at higher-end establishments. These establishments often want to project a wholesome, uniform look for their staff – one that can be offset by visibly tattooed workers.

Where tattoos are place on your body matters, of course. When they can be covered up for work, there may be no problem. In a recent survey 78% of inked young people said they would conceal their tattoos during a job interview. (And presumably, although they weren’t asked, on the job as well.)

Pretty people

Oh – and of course there was the case of people being discriminated against for their looks because they were actually too hot to hire.

Hiring bans on candidates such as obese people, smokers, the unemployed and the tattooed can only stand as long as there is a surplus of qualified workers on the market – giving employers the leeway to be extra choosy. The US (where most of these trends are taking place) has been particularly hit by job losses and high unemployment since the start of the recession. There have been some encouraging signs lately that the Canadian job market is heating up and unemployment here is on its way down

Hopefully this means candidates in this country will continue to be selected based on how well they can do the job rather than what they look like or do on their own time.


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