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The easiest way to protect your business from unfair discrimination claims at the CCMA - don't fire employees for their height or weight!

by , 20 March 2013
Russia's Bolshoi Ballet, once seen as the epitome of luxury and the ultimate company to work for, is now facing allegations that it's run 'like a brothel'. Even worse, it fires its ballerinas for getting 'too fat'. Don't even think of following this example! Here's how to keep discrimination claims like this from tarnishing your business' reputation by preventing them in the first place.

Former prima ballerina Anastasia Volochkova says the Bolshoi Ballet has lost its glamour.
 
In fact, it's run 'like a giant brothel' and she says she frequently received propositions to share the beds of oligarchs, says The Australian.
 
"Ten years ago when I was dancing at the theatre … the girls were forced to go along to grand dinners and given advance warning that afterwards they would be expected to have sex. When the girls asked: 'What happens if we refuse?', they were told that they would not go on tour or even perform at the Bolshoi theatre. Can you imagine?" asks Volochkova.
 
But Volochkova is thought to have an ulterior motive for bringing this to light, as she was infamously fired from the Bolshoi in 2003 for being "too fat".
 
Volochkova later won a lawsuit against the Bolshoi for this.
 
Firing an employee for similar reasons would be asking for the employee to lay a case of unfair discrimination against your company.
 
Because employment equity's not just about discrimination based on race, says FSP Business.
 
Do you know what counts as unfair discrimination under the Employment Equity Act?
 
In fact, there are 20 areas of discrimination related to employment equity, but the Department of Labour doesn't list height or weight among them.
 
This gives employees and job applicants a great deal of room to claim for discrimination, says FSP Business.
 
So what can you do if an employee's weight suddenly rises to such an extent that you're concerned about her ability to do the job?
 
The only time to even think of mentioning employees' height or weight...

The only time you should even mention employees' height or weight is if it's a prerequisite of the job description, such as needing flight attendants to be over a certain height and weight so they can reach the stowaway carriages and open emergency exits, says eHow.

And in that case, you should be aware of a height or weight discrepancy before the employee's even hired.
 
So if you are concerned about an employee's sudden weight loss or gain, make sure you only ever mention this in relation to her ability to do the job.
 
Don't say 'You're too skinny' – ask if she's still comfortable lifting heavy equipment if that's one of her job responsibilities.
 
It's the only way to avoid ending up at the CCMA for a case of unfair discrimination.
 

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