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My Big Fat Employee

My Big Fat Employee

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Q – An employee of mine has put on a lot of weight. He really looks horrible. We are a service related enterprise and appearance counts. Plus, I’m concerned about the added health risks that could be harmful to his job performance (as well as to his personal life). Do I have the right to warn or suspend him?

I’d tread carefully. Obesity is in the eye of the beholder, and besides, Leviticus 3:16 states that “all fat belongs to the Lord,” so either fattiness is next to Godliness or the Almighty’s been downing a few too many Hebrew Nationals.

The rabbis lived by their dictum, “Don’t look at the flask, but rather to that which is inside.” Tractate Brachot states, “The dignity of God’s creations is very great,” and Judaism emphasizes the need to give everyone proper respect. There is even a blessing to say (under your breath) when seeing a repulsive person: “Praised be God, for producing a variety of creations.”

One of the great 1st century sages, Rabbi Yehoshua, was known for his ability to turn repulsive looks to his advantage. Maybe your employee could do the same. If he has indeed allowed his life to get out of control, a concerned, friendly chat might be in order. But warnings and suspensions won’t be helpful – and you may end up in court.

This issue is fast becoming a prime legal concern in the workplace. Last spring a Hooters waitress in Michigan filed a weight discrimination lawsuit against her employers , and Lane Bryant protested not being able to show commercials for plus-sized clothing during American Idol and Dancing With the Stars. And earlier this year, Whole Foods was criticized for an incentive program trying to get workers to lose weight and get in shape.

As the culture becomes hyper-obsessed with appearance, those who don’t fit the cover-girl mold, meaning 90 percent of us, are at a disadvantage. Unless your business involves Chippendales or linebackers, it would seem that your ethical obligation would be not to discriminate against those who not only don’t fit the mold, but can’t fit into their jeans either. The nine tenths of us who have never appeared in centerfolds will appreciate it.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.
Have an ethical dilemma? Email Rabbi Hammerman at

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