The phenomenon of weight?based discrimination in South African employment


  • D. Viviers University of the Free State, South Africa
  • D. Smit University of the Free State, South Africa


South African labour law is forever evolving to address new issues in the modern workplace. One such new consideration is weight?based discrimination. With obesity increasing worldwide, it permeates every aspect of life, not least of which the workplace. A range of preconceived notions about the overweight and the obese often cause employers’ appearance prejudices to influence their employment decisions and practices, as is evident from the numerous court decisions worldwide dealing with weight?based discrimination in employment. This article first deconstructs the concept of ‘weight discrimination’, and then investigates the possible status of weight as a ground of unfair discrimination in South Africa. Even though South Africa is among the three most overweight nations in the world, and the country’s judicial forums have already had to deal with a number of cases involving elements of weight?related bias in the workplace, no specific legislation or other measure exists to address this phenomenon. The right to dignity and equality is vehemently protected in the South African Constitution; yet, the legislature chose not to include weight in the specific prohibited grounds of discrimination. Thus, the article explores the possibility of bringing claims of weight?based discrimination under section 6(1) of the amended Employment Equity Act, as well as that of obesity being protected as a disability. Following a comparative overview of the legal positions in the United States of America, Australia, the European Union and the United Kingdom, the article concludes by suggesting possible solutions and recommendations to fill the void in South African labour law to effectively deal with weight?based discrimination in the workplace.


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