A new study has found that obese employees have more workers’ comp claims than their fit counterparts. This should come as a surprise to no one, as obese people have higher medical costs in most aspects of life, not just during the work day.
New York employment attorney Richard Corenthal cautioned employers not to overreact with discriminatory policies.
“Employers need to be careful not to view this study as a green light to treat obese or overweight workers differently,” Corenthal said.
The litigious and politically correct culture in which we live has made this statement seem normal. In fact, this attitude is at the heart of the obesity problem. If no one treats obese people differently, there’s no external motivation to make health and fitness a priority.
Treating obese people differently does not mean making fun and calling names. It does not mean humiliation. It means honest discussion, without hiding behind a veil of useless platitudes. Employers need to be empowered to sit down with obese employees and candidly discuss health issues. If group health insurance premiums were higher for obese workers, it would give even more incentive for the employee/employer relationship to be more open with regards to weight. In most American workplaces, the obese workers are never confronted about their weight, because to do so could open employers up to complaints and lawsuits. They are not openly given different job duties either, although they are more likely to suffer an on-the-job injury than workers of normal weight.
It is time to stop dancing around this issue. Two thirds of the adult US population is overweight. Everyone knows this, and we’re constantly bombarded with information about how to lose weight and how important it is for our health. And yet in the workplace, everyone is expected to act as though it doesn’t matter if an employee is obese. This dichotomy between what we know to be true and how we’re expected to act is not helping anyone. By allowing obese workers to pay the same price for health insurance, and have double the workers comp claims with no penalty, we’re negating much of what we hear all the time in terms of obesity and illness. If actions speak louder than words, it’s time to allow honest dialog about the impact that obesity has on our lives, not just in the workplace, but life in general. If we’re serious about cutting health care costs, this has to be a starting point.