Encouraging healthy staff: How far can we go?

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in HR Management,Human Resources

Q. Some of our employees are quite heavy. We’re concerned they may become a liability at insurance renewal time because we suspect they have health problems (they also smoke and eat junk food). Can we ban smoking near our premises and make the workplace a snack-free zone? — E.W., New York

A. Assuming your premises are private property, you can ban smoking on them and in adjacent areas that are also private property. You can also prohibit employees from eating during work hours (unless the employee needs to eat to accommodate a disability, such as diabetes).

Laws in certain states (including New York) say you cannot terminate—or refuse to hire—employees because they smoke or eat unhealthy foods.

Rather than banning snacks at work, consider offering healthy snacks and instituting a wellness program to assist employees in adopting a healthy lifestyle. Consult with counsel to make sure your wellness program complies with applicable laws.

He or she can work with your health insurance carrier to set up an appropriate program to encourage healthy habits while not discriminating against persons with disabilities or others protected by law.

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