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How far should Pennsylvania companies take workplace wellness?

Employees in Pittsburgh and the Allegheny area of Pennsylvania should be able to feel safe in the workplace. Government and private agencies have worked to promote workplace wellness, particularly when it comes to eradicating issues that cause things like black lung disease. The best companies take it upon themselves to provide training, safety equipment and working conditions that reduce the chance of things like carpal tunnel syndrome or beryllium pneumonosis. Some people are wondering, though, if companies are taking workplace wellness too far.

One medical ethicist says company wellness programs could be crossing an ethical line. The ethicist says that employer-provided insurance has created complicated ties between the health of workers and the bottom line of the company. According to the man, employers have a vested interest in keeping workers healthy because it reduces the costs of health insurance premiums.

There are other reasons employers might promote or offer a wellness plan. Healthy people are likely to miss less work, have more energy and be happier. All of these things contribute to a more productive workplace. In some cases, employers may even be generally interested in the well-being of their workers for no other reason.

Many employers in the country incorporate wellness programs into employee benefits. Some programs include promoting health issues through education, free health clinics and exercise facilities on the business premises. The ethical expert doesn't have an issue with these programs, but warns that they can go too far if employers overstep the bounds between home and work.

The ethicist questions whether in-office gyms, which can only be used before or after an employee's paid shift, are designed to keep employees around work longer. He also questions whether it's fair for employers and insurance companies to increase insurance policy premiums for certain risky behavior without considering all potentially risky behavior.

Pushing for overall wellness in workers is an area employers must trod carefully. For employees, however, the fact that a business cares enough to address workplace illness and wellness issues is a good thing. Awareness of issues could reduce the chance that workplace illnesses occur. In the event an employee does contracts a job-related illness, understanding his or her legal rights and how the illness occurred are valuable steps in the decision to seek compensation.

Source:  News Works, "Workplace wellness sounds good, but is it ethical?" Maiken Scott, Feb. 13, 2014

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