Con: Improved health should be workplace option, not requirement

June 29, 2014 at 1:29 a.m.

Brandee Bratton, a performance coach and co-owner of Swim Bike Run of Victoria, believes employers should reward their employees when they put forth effort to make healthy transformations.

"It's important that they educate them about health care and risks and provide an alternative route," Bratton said. "They should encourage them."

However, the triathlete does not want anyone telling her she must exercise and eat certain ways.

Insurance discounts to reward healthy behaviors and employees' improved well-being should act as workplace motivators, she said. Health is a responsibility, like brushing one's teeth every day.

"If you don't do it, you end up in the dentist's office," Bratton said.

Jason Brown, an H-E-B employee, said his employer does a good job of promoting healthy lifestyle behaviors without requiring them. Brown participated earlier this year in the H-E-B Slim Down Showdown.

"From an overweight perspective, until you make the decision on your own, it would be difficult to make it a job expectation," Brown said.

Yet Brown sees the benefits.

"If you had asked me this a year ago, I'd have said absolutely not," Brown said. "Health and lifestyle has nothing to do with the job."

Brown's lifestyle habits have changed, though, as a result of the H-E-B weight loss challenge.

Yong Glasure, a professor of economics at the University of Houston-Victoria, said linking healthy behaviors to workplace performance evaluations opens potential for bias by employers and subsequent lawsuits.

He mentioned the April 2012 articles in the Advocate about Citizens Medical Center's policy of not hiring overweight people.

Citizens Medical Center established a policy to hire employees with body mass indexes under 35. Adults with body mass indexes more than 30 are considered obese. In 2012, the hospital reversed its decision when the policy caught national media attention.

Employers should encourage rather than require healthy behaviors, Glasure said. They should subsidize health insurance premiums for employees who are willing to take good care of their health.

"This is an individual society, not a group society," Glasure said. "We have individual freedoms and choices."

Penalizing employees for unhealthy behaviors is realistic, but requiring healthy behaviors is not, Glasure said.

In 2015, the Affordable Care Act will allow health insurers to charge smokers 50 percent higher premiums than they charge nonsmokers, according to the ObamaCare Facts website.

The University of Houston-Victoria sponsors a wellness program that seeks to motivate employees to voluntarily adopt healthier behaviors, according to the university website.

Program benefits include paid fitness release time, which provides employees up to 30 minutes per day, three days per week for participation in an exercise program or wellness activity, according to the website.

Of the university's 515 employees, half of the 400 eligible for fitness release time take advantage of the incentive, said Jeremy Shapiro, marketing specialist for the university.

Eight hours of "wellness leave" annually is also available to full-time employees who complete a health risk assessment and receive a routine physical exam each year.

The university introduced wellness leave at the start of the year, and 27 employees use the incentive, Shapiro said.

Expectations include health benefits, better quality of life, lower medical expenses, less absenteeism and higher levels of work productivity, according to the university website.

Reuben McDaniel Jr., chairman of health care management at the University of Texas at Austin, also opposed the idea of employers mandating healthy behaviors.

"We need to be extremely careful when we say the boss should be able to control behavior," McDaniel said.

Dangerous activities like jaywalking, riding a motorcycle and mountain climbing can also increase health care costs for employers.

"What's the limit?" McDaniel asked.

Pro: Businesses should require healthy activity at work



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