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Kate Phelon

Sift Media

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Colborn’s Corner: Watch your weight!

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Quentin ColbornIt has been reported that, as part of the government’s anti-obesity campaign, the Weight Watchers organisation is offering to run more lunchtime and after-work sessions in the workplace. Is this to be another role for HR – to assess the weight of employees and direct them to classes as necessary? Quentin Colborn looks at the involvement of the employer in the health and wellbeing of employees.


So how responsible are employers for the wellbeing of their employees? Answers range from the legalistic to the paternalistic. At one end of the spectrum are the requirements of the HASAW Act where clearly employers have to protect the welfare of workers. Few would argue that this is a reasonable requirement of employers – which fortunately most comply with out of human decency rather than due to the threat of legal action. However where should employers go at the other end of the scale – how much should employers intervene in the lives and welfare of employees?

When it comes to managing weight, I may be taking a simplistic approach here, but is that not an individual responsibility? I appreciate that there may be some very specific situations where for medical reasons people cannot manage their weight; however these must be very few and far between. Whilst not wanting to be too basic about the matter in many cases is not excess weight either an issue or eating too much, exercising too little or a combination of the two? If this is the case how far should employers involve themselves to providing help to employees?

“I fail to see why the employer should be actively involved in persuading employees to take actions related to their own wellbeing.”

My view is that an organisation may wish to provide facilities for staff to go to weight management classes, but that’s as far as it should go. There should be no pressure or undue influence for people to attend. However if employees are overweight and there is no underlying disability issue, then they should be prepared to face up to the consequences of their action (or inaction!). I fail to see why the employer should be actively involved in persuading employees to take actions related to their own wellbeing, fine to provide facilities but surely that should be the end of it.

An interesting related issue that sometimes crops up with employers is how to deal with what can be termed as self inflicted injuries. Many employees play sports or undertake hazardous pursuits and sometimes things go wrong. A mistimed tackle at football can lead to a spell on crutches with resultant time off work in some cases. So should this be covered under sick pay schemes? Where should we draw the line between the risk that the employer carries and the risk the employee takes? My view is that most sporting activities are a ‘good thing’ – encouraging fitness and teamwork, and so employers should be prepared to take the risk and do things such as paying sick pay. But how many employers actively consider the risk? In any event is the risk significant? An interesting parallel is with travel insurance where certain activities are specifically excluded from cover, or can only be included on payment of an additional fee.

How does your employer view weight management? A personal issue or one in which the employer should become involved? What about sick pay, should there be any exclusions for hazardous activities? If so, what do you think should be applied?


Quentin Colborn is an independent HR consultant based in Essex who works with organisations on strategic and operational HR issues. Quentin can be contacted on 01376 571360 or via [email protected]

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Kate Phelon

Content manager

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