Employers should not dictate employees’ lives
To borrow and partially corrupt the words of Jane Austen, it is a truth universally acknowledged that smoking is bad for you. For years, doctors, public service announcements and your parents warned you against picking up the habit. Now, even your boss may be on your case about your cigarette habit. Some companies are looking to make employees who live unhealthy lifestyles — like smokers and the obese — pay higher for health care. Among these companies is Wal-Mart, which plans to specifically raise the premiums of smokers in 2012, and Veridian Credit Union, which is going after both tobacco users and obese workers. The reasoning behind moves like these is all about the costs. Greg Rossiter, a spokesman for Wal-Mart, points to the fact that employees who use tobacco utilize about 25 percent more health services than employees who don’t use tobacco. Companies like Wal-Mart and Veridian believe that facts like this make it necessary to charge unhealthy employees more for health care.
But such measures are incredibly intrusive into the lives of employees. Decisions such as what to eat, whether to smoke, whether to exercise, etc., should be the exclusive choices of the employees themselves. These are, after all, things they do on their own time, not while on the company’s clock. As such, the company should have no say in these activities. Assuming that Wal-Mart, for example, is hiring adults who are responsible enough to hold a job in the first place, why should they treat their employees like children?
There also exists a slew of confounding variables, which make determining who should be effectively penalized for their lifestyle choices rather difficult. It is bad enough to attempt to shame an obese or overweight person into losing weight by charging them higher premiums when that person is obese or overweight because of their own lifestyle decisions. But it is another thing when that person’s weight is not entirely up to them. Perhaps they suffer from hormonal conditions that affect their weight. Maybe they take certain medications that make it difficult for them to maintain a slimmer waistline. How will these companies treat cases such as these examples? With their health care pricing systems intrusive as it is, will they hesitate to intrude even into the private lives of their employees?
Every aspect of your lifestyle affects your health. What you do with your personal life should be your choice — not your employer’s. By charging select employees higher premiums based on their lifestyles, these companies are attempting to discipline their workers in areas that should be insulated from the workplace. The only time an employee’s health should be an employer’s concern is when it interferes with the employee doing their job properly.