Blog: Helping or discriminating?

Catherine Sleep | 10 June 2004

Here in the UK it’s been one excitement after the other. Barely had we calmed down after D-Day commemoration events at the weekend, when along came Tuesday’s magnificent Venusian transit. Today we head for the polling booth to vote in both EU and local elections, and we are also preparing for excitement of a different kind as the European football championships kick off on Saturday. Yes, I mean soccer, for all my North American readers out there.

Thinking back to the last football tournament of this scale, the 2002 World Cup, many employers struggled to keep their workforce motivated. Staged in Asia, most matches were played during the European working day, prompting a not entirely unexpected wave of staff ‘sickness’. Many managers sought to turn a negative into a positive by bringing TVs into the workplace and encouraging employees to watch key matches together. They hoped that a small dent in productivity would be amply compensated for by a massive gain in popularity and a grateful workforce.

In any case they knew that, win or lose, it would all be over soon. The same cannot be said of most problems employers face today, and our current Feature of the Week addresses one of the latest to emerge. To what extent are companies responsible for employee obesity?

Increasingly, employers are taking a stance to help staff shed the pounds. All-you-can-eat food bars in the staff canteen are out; nutritional counselling is in. And it’s not purely altruistic; with average annual US healthcare costs estimated at US$7000 per employee, fat is very much a financial issue. It’s also a Human Resources minefield: when does active encouragement to get fit and eat healthily become sizeist discrimination inviting harassment litigation?

Check out the Feature of the Week


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