The former Malaysian Airlines flight attendant who claimed the airline unfairly fired her due to being overweight has lost her case. The 5’2″, 133 pound woman said the termination took place because she was one pound “overweight”. Unfortunately this fell outside of the airline’s BMI (body mass index) requirements.
The allegation against Malaysia Airlines was made by Ina Meliesa Hassim, a veteran flight attendant who has worked with the carrier for 25 years. According to the Independent, Hassim was fired in 2017 for being one pound “overweight”.
The allegation of being overweight relates to a 2015 company policy that requires employees to maintain a “healthy’ body mass index (BMI). “Healthy” in this case was considered below 132 pounds. Mashable reported that the decision came after Hassim was placed on a “weight management program”, given 18-months to meet the requirements.
The plaintiff’s lawyers said that a number of other international airlines do not have a BMI or weight requirement for cabin crew. Example airlines named include British Airways, Lufthansa, KLM and Qantas. Hassim’s lawyers go on to say that no safety issues have arisen as a result. They argued that being “overweight” by such a small factor would hardly prevent their client from effectively performing her duties.
The company policy
The Independent managed to obtain the guidelines, which include the following text:
“Being front liners in uniform, cabin crew cast an unforgettable image in the minds of our valued guests…It is for this reason that the company considers the feedback received from our customers on the image of crew and inevitably even the appearance of cabin crew has been included as one of the attributes in the passenger flight experience survey and which is being tracked monthly.”
On the more specific topic of health the guidelines state:
“With this policy in place, the airline will see healthier cabin crew who will project an image befitting that of the world’s best cabin staff as well as for ensuring the passengers’ safety when the necessity arises,”
The court’s ruling and reaction
Part of the company’s defense, which factored into the court’s ruling, is that Hassim had failed to attend several of her scheduled weigh-ins. Furthermore, the flight attendant had “ample opportunities” to achieve the “optimal weight.”
The New Straits Times reported on the official ruling, which stated:
“The court is convinced that the company had provided the claimant with ample opportunities and chances to comply with the company’s policy and that despite the many opportunities however, the claimant had consistently failed to achieve her optimal weight,”
Several rights and advocacy organizations rushed to defend Ms. Hassim and fight the court’s ruling. In fact, the National Union of Flight Attendants Malaysia (NUFAM) said the airline’s policy was “erroneously inhumane” while Malaysia’s Women’s Aid Organisation (WAO), also accused the company of discrimination.
While we would agree that health and weight can affect job performance, this airline’s policy seems rather strict. It’s true that many airlines do not have a clear policy on weight – but it seems like recruitment and selection usually favors those with slimmer physiques. This would largely avoid the need for a weight policy, which would lead to controversial situations such as this.
Did Ms. Hassim have a case here? Do you think she was wrongfully terminated? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.
We reached out to Malaysian Airlines with a request for comment. We have yet to receive a response from the airline but will update this article if anything new comes in.