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Employee Health Behaviors

In: Business and Management

Submitted By sunshine7
Words 933
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The impact of employee personal health behaviors can affect health care costs, job performance, and productivity. There are several ways organizations can attempt to tackle poor health habits of employees. The challenge for employers, however, resides in staying within legal and ethical boundaries when addressing such issues as obesity and smoking. Regulation of employee lifestyles by employers is becoming a more prevalent issue, but laws regarding this practice vary by jurisdiction. Organizations can protect themselves from legal trouble and ethical issues by implementing constructive programs aimed at improving the health of their workforces rather than engaging in discriminatory practices against overweight employees and smokers.
Weight discrimination can be an issue in any industry so it is important that managers are aware of the laws regulating such practices. Obesity is a health problem and some employers assume that overweight employees will incur more illness-related absences and contribute to higher health care costs. Research shows that overweight employees are more likely to be subjected to discrimination in terms of hiring, treatment, and retention (Roehling, 2002, p. 177). While most states do not have laws protecting workers from discrimination based on weight per se, some protection is afforded under the Americans with Disabilities Act, where a certain level of obesity is considered an actual disability (p. 181). In addition to employment protection, if an individual qualifies as disabled, the employer must take necessary steps to provide reasonable accommodation of that person so he or she can perform their job (p. 180).
Because laws vary and the disability status of an individual is decided on a case-by case basis, it is prudent for employers to take necessary steps to avoid weight discrimination in the workplace. Some methods include modifying the organization’s non-discrimination policy to include obese and overweight employees, as well as providing anti-discrimination training (Crowder, 2010, p. 43). If employers wish to address the issue of obesity in the workforce, there are proactive and constructive options organizations can employ which do not present ethical and legal issues. Employee fitness programs are one such option. Research shows that employee fitness programs not only aid in improving physical health, but can help reduce stress, absenteeism, and lateness (Falkenberg, 1987, p. 518). General health and well-being programs are another way to improve the general wellness of a company’s workforce. Research suggests that programs like these tend to attract and retain more health-conscious employees (DeGroot & Kiker, 2003, p. 64).
Smoking is another industry-wide health issue that can lead to medical problems and higher health care costs. Several studies show that smokers are more likely to be absent than non-smokers and smokers take longer to recuperate from illnesses (Lecker, 2009, p. 48).
There are several ways to tackle the workplace smoking problem. Some are safer, ethically and legally, than others. Voluntary smoking cessation programs are the least intrusive of the options. Other methods include smoking bans on company property, anti-smoker hiring practices, and higher health insurance premiums for smokers (Lecker, 2009, p. 48). Companies have the right to chose whether or not they ban smoking on their own properties. It is necessary, however, to consider the rights of non-smokers in that decision, as second-hand smoke can be the basis of legal claims (Tomkowicz & Lessack, 2006, p. 60). Further, some instances have occurred where non-smoking employees complain about the amount of time smokers spend taking breaks and they demand that same amount of time for non-work-related activities (Lecker, 2009, p. 48).
The legality of denying employment to those who smoke differs from state to state. The majority of states have enacted laws protecting the rights of smokers to smoke outside of working hours (Lecker, 2009, p. 53). Some, like Michigan, however, have adopted policies allowing the hiring or firing of employees based on their off-duty tobacco use (p. 53). Clearly, if a workplace resides in a state that protects the rights of smokers to use nicotine outside of work, the organization needs to comply. In states where no laws exist, making hiring or firing decisions based on tobacco use can still pose legal or ethical troubles as lifestyle discrimination is still a gray area in employment law.
For information about weight discrimination as it applies to the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers can consult the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s Web site. For information on smoking policies, employers should follow state guidelines in order to avoid potential lawsuits. Employers can also utilize scholarly journals, such as the Journal of Business Ethics, to research and assess the moral complications with addressing employee lifestyle choices.
References
Crowder, C. L. (2010). Avoiding discrimination against overweight workers. Employment Relations Today, 36(4), Retrieved August 10, 2011, from Business Source Complete.
DeGroot, T., & Kiker, D. (2003). A meta-analysis of the non-monetary effects of employee health management programs. Human Resource Management, 42(1). Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Business Source Complete.
Falkenberg, L. E. (1987). Employee fitness programs: Their impact on the employee and the organization. Academy of Management Review, 12(3). Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Business Source Complete.
Lecker, M. (2009). The smoking penalty: Distributive justice or smokism? Journal of Business Ethics, 84. Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Business Source Complete.
Roehling, M. V. (2002). Weight discrimination in the American workplace: Ethical issues and analysis. Journal of Business Ethics, 40(2). Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Business Source Complete.
Tomkowicz, S. M., & Lessack, S. K. (2006). Where there's smoke: Employer policies on smoking. Employee Relations Law Journal, 32(3). Retrieved August 9, 2011, from Business Source Complete.…...

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