You hear it all the time: Sedentary, overweight and out-of-shape employees can be a huge drain when it comes to health insurance, workers’ comp and other costs. Whip ’em into shape and you’ll save, save, save!
True, but be careful. A recent court decision offers a cautionary tale.
The bottom line: An employee who suffered a spinal cord injury while exercising at a gym was awarded workers’ comp.
Now, under most circumstances, employees who get hurt in voluntary off-duty activities aren’t entitled to comp. But there are three exceptions: Comp can be awarded if an employer requires the employee to participate, compensates him or her for doing so, or sponsors the activity.
In this case, the employee was neither required nor compensated for his gym membership — though he had the option to be reimbursed for half of his membership (he chose not to take it).
And the company didn’t exactly “sponsor” the activity.
What it did was encourage the employee to participate. Why? To help develop contacts with current and prospective clients.
In affirming a lower court decision, the state Supreme Court cited two factors: (1) The company at least offered to pay half of its employees’ membership fees; and (2) it encouraged participation as a way to further business interests.
It did not say whether either factor alone would have been enough to carry the day.
What do you think? Should you worry about crossing a line when you urge employees to lead active, healthier lifestyles? Let us know in the Comment Box below.