This past May, I recall hearing about a controversial firing or suspension of a waitress at a Hooters here in Michigan because she was overweight. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, to tell you the truth, but this past weekend I found myself in a discussion with some friends and the subject came up randomly.
I was shocked to hear from my so called educated friends that they felt like it was perfectly ok for Hooters, or any establishment which leverages the “looks” of its employees in its business model, to summarily fire any employee who took the job knowing the rules of the job. I did some more research, and found that in an informal online survey by CBS News that nearly equal numbers of respondents felt that firing the woman in question was ok, or that the firing was a clear case of discrimination.
With a little more thought, the controversy does make some sense. The Michigan Elliot Larsen Civil Rights Act formalizes the idea that in Michigan at least, the opportunity to work free from discrimination based on weight is a civil right. So, on the one side, the issue seems pretty cut and dry, no matter the employee’s status as at will or not (and that is a whole different subject that won’t be addressed here, suffice to say that “at will” means you can be fired on the spot for any legal reason…) an employer cannot legally fire someone for being overweight.
However, there is more to the story. The law also says that if an employer can show “a bona fide occupational qualification reasonably necessary to the normal operation of the business or enterprise” that the employer can fire an employee for being too overweight to perform the necessary job function. In the Hooter’s case, the restaurant will have to show that having their waitstaff in very good, one might say attractive or sexually appealing, physical condition is a reasonably necessary requirement for their business. Interesting question, right? Why do people go to Hooter’s in particular? Are the wings that good? Or is it for the, well… hooters…