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My bosses can’t tell me how to live… Can they?

November 4, 2009

The economic outlook remains gloomy. Many employers are still laying off. The staff who is left is working, work longer hours than ever before. More work = less personal time. While personal time diminishes, is personal choice also diminishing? Workplace rules & laws are getting stricter all the time. They are covering more and more of what used to be looked at as personal choices.

These factors contribute to the blurring lines between work life and personal life.

Lets look at some numbers:

Nearly all companies have an IT policy preventing employees from using the companies’ resources for personal online use. In spite of these bans a study released October 14th of this year, shows that 50% of workers say they will shop while at work this holiday season. 10% of these workers will spend at least 30 hours shopping online. Company policies vary, but consequences for violations can be harsh.

Concerned about your rights to privacy in your company computer? Your safest bet is to assume you don’t have any and don’t look for federal government protection. Federal Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA) states an employer-provided computer system is the property of the employer. California allows for some minor adjustments. In general employees can expect very little electronic privacy on company owned computer equipment. Don’t risk termination or disciplinary action; limit your personal computer use to your personal time. Make sure you are familiar with your company’s IT policy. Ask you HR department to provide you with your company’s policy if you are unsure.

Employers don’t stop with company owned computer equipment. Some employers are now attempting to ban obesity in the workplace.  The numbers behind this decision are staggering. Employers with a BMI greater then 40 (18.5 to 24.9 BMI is normal) had 11.7 workers comp claims per 100 workers, compared to 5.8 claims per 100 for normal BMI employees.

Injuries aren’t the only costs. Health benefit costs to employers has SKYROCKETED due to employees with obesity related conditions. The average health spending for the 15 most expensive obesity -related condition climbed 55 percent form 97-05.

Think you are protected against your employer’s decisions regarding obesity? Think again. Discrimination laws very narrowly define protected classes of workers. Only Michigan and DC protect overweight workers. To many employers’ credit, they are working with health care companies to design programs to help employees lose weight. Initiatives include gym memberships, discounted weight loss programs and more mundane solutions such as serving fruit at morning meeting rather than pastries.

Employers aren’t the only ones pushing change in personal choices at work. Many states & localities have a ban on smoking in the workplace. American Nonsmokers’ Rights Foundation says that currently 71% of the US population lives under a smoking ban of some kind. Many of these bans are administered by OSHA. Employers: ignore enforcement at your own peril.

Are the positions these employers and enforcement agencies taking too paternalistic? These statutes that have been challenged in court, and the courts are upholding the employers decisions. Whatever your personal opinion of these “intrusive” rulings, your employer is still within his/her rights to make these personal choices for you.

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