There’s No Hiding from Your Own Bad Habits

Obesity and Your JobThe topic of off-duty conduct has been unavoidable recently.

First there was the wave of large companies who stopped hiring smokers or charged higher health care premiums to employees. Sure enough, this trend resulted in a lawsuit challenging the legality of making employment decisions based on what candidates and employees do outside of work. The conditional-employee sued Scotts when his conditional job offer was revoked when he tested positive for nicotine. (Scotts doesn’t hire smokers).

Next came a wave of talk about GINA, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, proposed to prohibit employers from basing employment decisions based on genetic information. It would also put limits on the amount of detail employer about an employee’s family medical history and other private data.

And don’t forget the internet! Employees who post on blogs, in chat rooms, or on social network sites like MySpace and FaceBook have a lot to stay. What are employers to do when their employees (current or former) are giving away trade secrets or other confidential information? And what about the bitter employee with lots of complaining to do and an unlimited audience ready to listen.

What’s next? Well, if you ask Governor Spitzer, he might have his own opinionson this topic. His “off-duty conduct” has resulted in his resignation and a great deal of commentary for morning news shows and late night comics alike. Some may argue that the difference between smoking and engaging prostitutes is legality. Smoking, at least for now, is a legal activity. You can pick up a pack of cigarettes at any corner convenience store. Not so with prostitutes. They can be picked up, true, but it is unlawful to do so. Yet, both activities will land you in a similar position–unemployed.

So where should employers draw the line? That’s a question for another day. Some critics claim that weight will be the “new tobacco.” Will employers, who face rapidly increasing health care costs, next turn to overweight employees and make them an offer they cannot refuse–lose weight or lose your job. Or will the same objective be attempted through higher health care premiums?

And will they charge by the pound?

Barry M. Willoughby, our Section Chair, commented on this issue last week in the Wilmington News Journal.

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