Government Does Not Discriminate Against Overweight Employees Say Readers

Women and men who work for the federal government and are overweight are not paid less according to readers.

Last week, we ran an article dealing with women, weight and pay. The article cited a recent study that found that obese, educated women earn about 30% less than women who weigh a normal amount. The study was not based on working conditions among federal government employees. (The article is available from the link on the left hand side of the page.)

It raised a question though: Does a similar situation exist in the federal government?

The answer from readers was clear. 58% of those responding said that women who are overweight do not earn less pay. 36% said women who are overweight do earn less pay.

When asked the same question about men, 74% said overweight men do not earn less pay. 19% responded that overweight men do earn less pay.

Comments from readers were enlightening as to why readers felt one way or the other. The most frequent comment was that the government’s system of pay scales does not allow for discrimination. In fact, some readers believe that being fat is an advantage as many or most of the senior managers in the readers’ agencies are also fat. A few readers also voiced the opinion that under a pay for performance system overweight employees would be paid less.

That opinion was not universally held. Some readers contend they have not been promoted because of weight. Some readers said that men held most of the senior positions and they prefer to look at thin, attractive women so these women get promoted at the expense of others.

Here are a few comments that highlight the opinions of some respondents.

A personnel management specialist with the Air Force in Washington, DC writes: “People are paid for their talent and planning capability– not their girth or lack of it.”

A biologist with the Forest Service in Washington, DC expresses this concern: “I don’t think they are underpaid now with the automatic pay raises and the grade increases upon good performance. But I will wager that it will become a factor in the pay banding system where the supervisor makes the decisions on % of raise. I would bet that weight issues along with other factors for discrimination will become major factors in decisions again….”

A cemetery director with the National Cemetery Administration says: “I am overweight, but have not been held back. I am judged and rewarded based on my performance, not my size. I’ve been promoted from a GS-5 to a GS-11 in less than 5 years.”

A Navy employee from Bremerton, WA offers this opinion: “Most of the Fat Folks may get out of working most jobs but they do not receive any less pay.”

A Treasury Department employee says: “I work for the Govt BECAUSE of the pay system ….. guaranteed not to discriminate! I fear that will all change if we move to pay for performance. If we wanted to be subjected to possible pay discrimination, we would have sought employment with the private sector in the first place!!!”

A Social Security Administration employee in Kansas City writes: “Many employees do not start out their careers as overweight, but add on weight because of various reasons. Many of these same employees also are just as competent at their jobs when overweight as they were when they were hired. Because of this competence, there does not seem to be a large difference in pay in our agency….”

An IRS investigator from Baltimore says being overweight is an advantage in government. “It seems the fatter they are the more pay (they get) and less work they do!”

A senior HR specialist with the DoD in North Carolina says there is a difference between military and civilian perceptions: “Military would definitely prefer to deal with lean mean civilians and may comment about their civilian counterparts who would not meet their weight standards…but in my experience their focus is mainly on ‘getting the job done’, regardless of appearance.”

And a Corps of Engineers employee in Vicksburg, MS says this about his state: “In my opinion, there is no pay disparity between overweight and normal weight workers where I work because Mississippi is one of the leading states in obesity. So if only normal weight individuals were being paid more than overwieght individuals, then a lot of jobs here would not be filled!!!”

On the other side of the issue, here are comments from readers who think that being overweight does result in being paid less.

A forestry technician with the Forest Service writes: “Discrimination based on weight or body size seems to be the last acceptable form of bias left in government. I have seen this happen throughout my career.”

An attorney with the Social Security Administration in San Jose, CA opines: “I think that the interviewing process is the key to this discrimination. Fat phobia, especially against women, seriously influences the selection. The more “presentable” woman (ie, not obese) will be chosen for that higher paying position. This appears to be the same whether the decision maker is male or female.”

A DoD employee doesn’t think too much of some fellow federal employees: “I am starting to believe those disparaging comments that the average person (woman specifically in this case) who works for the federal government does so out of laziness and inability to compete in the private sector. I say this because when I look around, it is rare to see a normally weighted female. The majority are shockingly obese. I don’t know if there is a pay disparity because of this. It shouldn’t be surprising if there is.”

A management analyst with the Army in Atlanta has this observation: “I have a college education; have ALWAYS been discriminated against because of my weight — can’t prove it, but I KNOW it.”

A secretary with the Food Safety and Inspection Service says she has seen the results of being overweight in her career: “I feel that people no matter where who are overweight are discriminated against. We are not judged by the work we do or how neat our appearance is, we are judged just on the fact that we are overweight. These perceptions of us are continued even though we have proven our value time and time again.”

And a technician with the USDA in New Jersey has this to say: “Some women who wear skin tight revealing clothing are actually being given additional training in order for them to pass a desk audit to upgrade their position to the next grade level. There are others who may be overweight, however, dress professionally who are continually passed over for upgrades, promotions, etc, even though their position is one of great responsibility.”

Feel free to offer your own opinion for others to read at the bottom of this article.

Thanks to all readers who took the time to vote and send in their opinion on this issue.

About the Author

Ralph Smith has several decades of experience working with federal human resources issues. He has written extensively on a full range of human resources topics in books and newsletters and is a co-founder of two companies and several newsletters on federal human resources. Follow Ralph on Twitter: @RalphSmith47