Drawing a Line Between Employer & Employee Rights

By Samuel Greengard  |  Posted 2015-06-15 Email Print this article Print
Employer vs.Employee Rights

Employees should have the freedom to make their own choices without fear of employer reprisals, but presenting workers with healthy options is smart business.

It's clear that the line between employer and employee rights is contentious—and at times a bit blurry. A few weeks ago, word bubbled up about a disturbing practice of a company tracking workers during their time off, and a couple of years back, news stories broke about employers demanding social media passwords from job applicants so they could rummage through the candidates' posts before making a hiring decision.

A recent Baseline slideshow, "Why Companies Should Care About Employees' Weight," elicited concerns from one reader: "I don't want to be a size 0 just because everyone else/employers think so. I have several friends who are within their weight scale and yet they get sick two/three/four or more times a year. I haven't been ill in over 10 years and I'm 56 pounds overweight. Doctor says my heart, blood pressure, etc., are better than most people younger than my 45 years." The reader goes on to say that she believes some employers reject candidates because of their weight.

I'm sure that some employers do discriminate based on weight and appearance. Some employers discriminate on the basis of race, gender or age too. And, of course, all of this is at the very least wrong and at the worst illegal—though there's often no way to prove anything.

The bottom line is that if a person can perform his or her duties, weight—along with race, age, gender or attractiveness—shouldn't be an issue. In fact, the reader is correct that a person who is overweight may be healthier and better equipped to handle duties than someone who is at the weight a doctor or health care provider suggests.

But this doesn't mean that employers shouldn't develop wellness programs to address obesity and lack of exercise. Fitness and health recommendations are based on averages and aggregates. There are exceptions in much the same way that a person can smoke, drink alcohol and devour junk food and still live to 100.

The fact that someone might buck statistics doesn't change the underlying equation—or the actuarial charts. As the slideshow noted, workers dealing with obesity and other serious health issues cost companies more than $73 billion a year.

As a society, we have to get past fat-shaming and bullying. We need to move past anorexic- looking and Photoshopped models on the covers of magazines.

However, putting a corporate wellness plan in place, handing out Fitbits, and creating rewards for individuals to become healthier is nothing more than dollars and sense. Such programs will likely reduce health care costs, boost wellness, lower absenteeism, and result in employees who are healthier and happier.

In the end, employees should have the freedom to make their own choices without fear of employer reprisals, but presenting workers with healthy choices is just smart business.

Samuel Greengard writes about business and technology for Baseline, CIO Insight and other publications. His most recent book is The Internet of Things (MIT Press, 2015).

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