Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Your health, lifestyle is fair game for employers looking to cut costs

In recent years, many employers offered healthy initiatives to their employees: discounts for health clubs and WeightWatchers classes, healthy offerings in their cafeterias and snack machines, free smoking cessation classes. But these days, employers looking to cut their health care costs any way they can may fire employees who don't quit smoking, lose weight or lower their blood pressure. According to "Get healthy or get fired" in today's Baltimore Sun (Monday's Chicago Tribune), "punitive measures are gaining a foothold in the workplace, according to lawyers and groups that follow insurance and employment trends, because health-care costs are growing at high single-digit to double-digit rates annually."

Punitive measures short of discharge may include, for example, charging employees monthly or yearly fees if they smoke. Today's huge health-care costs burden most employees. (Some just can't afford to pay for coverage.) An increase in his/her cost of the health care premium is bad news enough, but then add fees on top of that for activity outside the workplace that the employer decides is unhealthy?? Whoa!

The question for employees is: How far will these requirements on personal habits and penalties go, and what sort of criteria will employers use to define good health?
Damn good question. Guild members have the right to not only ask those questions, but the right to request a meeting to discuss the potential legal slippery slope that would allow an employer to implement medical and behavioral dictates that reach outside the workplace, the impact such dictates and fees could have on its members and alternatives to the implementation of such fees that may satisfy both side's concerns. (end of post)

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