Employee health needn’t be political (Editorial)

By John Hobel
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 05/09/2005

Labour leaders have good reason to be wary of management. Keeping an eye on employers is the reason unions exist. But among battles over wages and working conditions, there’s one item labour leaders should curb their suspicious natures about — employee wellness programs.

This issue’s CloseUp section on healthy workplaces is a good opportunity for HR and industrial relations experts to take in the views union officials have regarding employer attempts to encourage workers to lead healthier, more active lives. Unfortunately, there are some unhealthy attitudes out there.

Union reps are concerned for a number of reasons. They worry that employee privacy may be violated, and that even when confidentiality is kept, wellness initiatives intrude into people’s personal lives. They’re worried about reprisals against employees who don’t want to take part. And they fear that an employer focus on wellness is driven by benefit plan cost containment, a diversion of attention that impedes dealing with more serious occupational health and safety issues.