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What is height discrimination in the workplace?

Remember when you were in grade school and all the kids would argue on the playground about who was the tallest? There was pride in being taller than others and growing up fast. Whether you want to believe it or not, this emphasis and value on height are still pervasive in the adult world. For example, people tend to trust and follow those who are tall, which history confirms in the election of U.S. presidents.

Attitudes about height can even be a factor in the workplace. Although it does not receive much attention, discrimination based on height is a real and persistent force in employment matters.

Examples of height discrimination

Discrimination can occur no matter which end of the height spectrum a person is on, but it tends to be more common for those of a short stature. The challenging thing about identifying it is that it tends to be subtle or subconscious. Many offenders may not even realize they have a prejudice against certain heights and that it affects their treatment of others.

Other times, the discriminatory behavior is more obvious or easier to prove:

  • A job mandating an arbitrary minimum height or one that would disproportionately eliminate women or certain ethnic groups from eligibility
  • An employer selectively enforcing height requirements
  • An employee harassing a coworker about his or her height

Sometimes, the discrimination also (or more closely) falls under sex discrimination. For example, an employer may make decisions on hiring and promoting based on gender stereotypes linked to height, such as short men being less manly and powerful or tall women being less feminine and more aggressive. It can also relate to disability discrimination for those who are extremely short or tall due to medical conditions.

What to do about height discrimination

Employees must do their part in training workers on explicit and implicit bias to avoid discrimination lawsuits. Affected employees who want to start a claim must document height discrimination thoroughly, as it is difficult to prove.