Junkfood Science: From the Food for Thought file: Can you be fired for eating a cookie or a steak or enjoying a glass of wine after work?

March 12, 2008

From the Food for Thought file: Can you be fired for eating a cookie or a steak or enjoying a glass of wine after work?

Reporter Eric Ruth of the Delaware News Journal investigates the growing number of employers who feel it is their role to dictate private behaviors outside of the workplace. He’s found that bad habits might even cost people their jobs, and calls upon readers to look at what is happening before it’s too late for everyone.

Bad habits can cost you your job

...As U.S. companies scramble to contain health insurance costs and survive a wheezing economy, some are scrutinizing their employees' off-duty behavior, firing those who smoke, tacking surcharges onto overweight workers' health plans and even dismissing people for having an off-duty drink. Such practices are raising claims of unwarranted intrusion, a few cries of illegal discrimination and warnings of fraying liberties. "If it's your own business and you can't do what you want, that's communism," said Mill Creek resident Helen Muhlmichl, a nonsmoker and smoking opponent who has even lost a father to lung cancer...

Some people question how far the trend will go. If companies are justified in firing smokers, then logic would seem to open the door to banning all sorts of risky behaviors, from eating fatty foods to motorcycle riding. And conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol could become bars to employment. “The same logic that goes into not hiring smokers is the same logic that could go into not hiring fat people, or not hiring people who eat steak," said Michael Siegel, associate chairman of the Social & Behavioral Sciences Department at Boston University....

Eventually, the need to rein in costs might become so pressing that "we can all kiss our private lives goodbye," the head of the National Workrights Institute told "60 Minutes."

Full article here, including reports of workers fired for sipping an unapproved beverage and having the wrong bumper sticker message on their car, and the growing intrusions of employer “wellness” programs [“we shall all be on pills and diets” programs] and invasions of medical privacy. As the move to hire only low-cost employees and “a healthy work force,” fat people could also find themselves out on the street. Yes, you can be fired for anything, yet, the evidence points to things other than costs and mortality risks being behind these initiatives. The single largest demographic risk factor for early mortality in our country, accord to Daniel Kruger, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan Insitute for Social Research, is being male. Moderate drinkers live the longest, as shown in the American Heart Association's review of the evidence and in studies such as the recent Copenhagen City Heart Study. And the highest mortalities are found in those who are thin and aging.

Bookmark and Share