The Citizens Medical Center in Victoria established the policy that requires potential employees to have a body mass index of less than 35 a little more than a year ago, according to the Texas Tribune.
A BMI of less than 35 translates into 210 pounds for someone who is 5-foot-5 and 245 pounds for someone who is 5-foot10.
The hospital says that hospital employees “should fit with a representational image or specific mental projection of the job of a healthcare professional,” as well as possessing an appearance “free from distraction” for the hospital’s patients.
“The majority of our patients are over 65, and they have expectations that cannot be ignored in terms of personal appearance,” hospital chief executive David Brown told the Texas Tribune. “We have the ability as an employer to characterize our process and to have a policy that says what’s best for our business and for our patients.”
Brown tells the paper that existing employees at the hospital will not be fired if they become obese, but applicants have been rejected as a result of the policy.
“We have some people who are applicants and they know the requirements, and we try and help them get there but they're not interested,” he said. “So that's fine, they can go work somewhere else.”
While Texas law prohibits employers from discriminating against applicants’ race, age or religion, the state does not have laws that prohibit weight discrimination.
Some people say that the hospital should not judge health based on BMI alone, because the number does not distinguish between muscle and fat weight.
Others say that the policy could result in employers missing out on talented candidates.
“This is discrimination plain and simple. So the field of medicine is no longer an option for people of larger body size? What a waste of talent,” Peggy Howell, public relations director for the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance told the Tribune.
The Citizen Medical Center has already been under attack for discrimination against race.
In 2007, Brown had sent a memo expressing a “sense of disgust” that more “Middle-Eastern-born” doctors demanding leadership roles at the hospital had prompted claims of racial discrimination, according to the Tribune. Brown said that he could not discuss details of the note because of ongoing litigation.
The Daily Mail reported that a 2010 study of 2,000 people by Slimming World found that employers often refrain from hiring overweight people because they are assumed to be lazy. In the survey of 200 employers, 25 percent of men said they would turn down a candidate purely on their weight, and 10 percent admitted that they have already done so.
Very overweight people are also more likely to be anxious about applying for a new job.
Overweight and obese people often earn less than their coworkers and are more likely to be bullied or overlooked for promotion.
According to a December study, obesity can also lead to a reduction in income, especially in women.
Researchers from George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services' Department of Health Policy revealed that in 2004, wages among the obese were $8,666 less for females and $4,772 lower for males. In 2008, wages were $5,826 less for obese females, which was 14.6 percent less than females of normal weight.
"This research broadens the growing body of evidence that shows that in addition to taxing health, obesity significantly affects personal finances," said lead author of the December study Professor Christine Ferguson said in a statement. "It also reinforces how prevalent stigma is when it comes to weight-related health issues."