March 21, 2007

Mandating Employee Health?

“Helping employees get healthier is an honorable goal—even if you have to use strong arm tactics to do it”, says Jeff Bedard, CEO of Crown Laboratories. Bedard is currently using his own strong-arm tactics, by implementing a wellness program to compel his 61 employees to get healthier.

The wellness program used by Crown requires each employee to get an annual on-site health assessment. During the assessment the employee’s blood pressure, weight, physical activity level, and cholesterol are taken. From these indicators a “wellness number” is assigned, a number of up to twenty-four is assigned to each employee, the higher the number the better. Employees who maintain a score of twenty or higher and/or improve their scores within a designated time period by at least three points will receive $500 bonus and additional days off.

Traditionally wellness programs have been voluntary, but now Crown and other companies are making them mandatory for employees. However, there is still no state or federal regulation dictating whether employees can be required to participate in wellness programs and offer them cash incentives. With Crown’s health care costs rising over 30% for the past few years, Bedard decided it was up to him to help his employees to get healthy.

Although there are many prohibitive tobacco laws in the United States, there are also laws that provide protection for smokers from discrimination in the workplace. Thirty states and Washington D.C. have laws against firing or demoting smokers in the workplace. This helps to safeguard employees and their legal right to smoke and prevents the employer from deciding what his or her employees do on their own time. Such states as California, Colorado, Tennessee, and North Dakota have laws specifically restricting employers from forbidding any legal activity a worker does in their off-hours. These laws are put into place fearing a slippery slope once employers start controlling what their employees are doing in their free time.

Crown Laboratories should eliminate the mandatory aspects of its wellness program. The obligatory portion of the wellness program opens the company to discrimination suits and the program is not job-related. Instead of basing bonuses or vacation time on the wellness scores, one recommendation for Crown would be to base such incentives on job performance. In no way does smoking effect job performance, job quality, or job quantity. Basing bonuses and vacation time on anything other than job performance is not right and could make the company liable for wrongful termination suits.

Crown should eliminate the mandatory aspect of the program, which has the potential to increase motivation, productivity, and the health of employees if the motivation is intrinsic. A voluntary wellness program protects Crown and its image from discrimination suits and will show more respect, trust and loyalty to its employees.

Employing Illegal Immigrants

Immigration is making headlines once again with the crackdown on immigration policies nationwide. This crackdown has triggered the American public to question exactly what immigration policies are and how they have been being enforced in years past. Companies should be expected to follow legal guidelines when conducting business practices and compete by hiring legal workers. They are expected to follow current employment legislation as well as codes of conduct while still being able to make a profit.

In recent years, company management has not been held accountable for its hiring practices. There were no strict penalties for companies who did not follow the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986. IRCA legislation sets out the regulations for hiring practices in the United States regarding employment verifications. Employers are required to verify the identity and work authorization of each employee in their company through the I-9 Employment Verification Form. Failure to comply with IRCA requirements can result in significant fines, loss of access of government contracts, and highly negative publicity for a company.

Fortunately, the Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) bureau is currently cracking down on the enforcement of hiring illegal immigrants. Raids of companies such as IFCO and Wal-Mart have led immigration officials to go after both employees working for these companies and management at the companies themselves. In particular, immigration law enforcement is now of national concern and the government crackdown is further proving this.

Additionally, neo-classical ethical thought establishes a moral minimum, which must be taken into account when conducting business. It establishes the notion that companies have a duty to "cause no harm, to prevent harm, and to do good". By forcing companies to consider their ramifications on both the public sector and employees at their companies, businesses must make sure their actions do not harm those they are doing business with. This also allows companies to see the affects of their business practices on the economy at large. The concrete notion of “causing no harm” compels companies to override any other ethical considerations. “Causing no harm” may include not maximizing returns for a company in order to ensure their employees are being treated fairly and there is no public harm from company actions. The entire perception of the neo-classical theory and moral minimum establish broader ethical responsibilities for companies.

If companies are finding it difficult to find workers to fulfill the positions required to meet the demand of the economy, they need to come together and lobby for more work visas for illegal immigrants. Lobbying for worker visas for illegal immigrants will not only benefit the companies by allowing them to fill the job positions they need, it will provide illegal immigrants with sustainable wages and benefits required to live in the United States. However, getting governmental approval for additional worker visas may be hard for companies to achieve. Currently, the America’s visa program allows for companies to bring in immigrants for specialized jobs and positions. The visas which foreign workers acquire are known as H-1Bs. These visas allow for workers to temporarily come into the United States to work. President Bush called for an increase of H-1Bs in January 2007, but current research shows that those benefiting from this influx of immigrants are not necessarily the companies. Data shows that hiring immigrants does not necessarily give companies a competitive advantage. Under H-1B requirements, employers are mandated to pay immigrants “prevailing wages and benefits” of the market.

In order to proceed in the future, companies should start to develop higher ethical requirements when it comes to their hiring practices. Human resource departments and upper management should be held accountable for ensuring that all employees hired are in fact legal and eligible to work in the United States. The State of Colorado has already taken this upon itself by passing House Bill 06-1343, which requires "contractors entering into a public contract to provide services for state agencies to verify worker eligibility through the Pilot Program". Additionally, Colorado House Bill 1017 mandates that employers keep a written or electronic confirmation of employer examination of legal work status on file. Failure to comply with House Bill 1017 can result in a fine of $5,000 for the first offense and $25,000 for subsequent offenses.

By ensuring that companies are required to take additional steps to verify worker eligibility, the government is holding companies responsible for their workforce. Self-enforcement should force companies to be held to a higher ethical standard and force them to adhere to laws. This would make it possible for companies to police their workforce instead of having Immigrations and Customs Enforcement bureau police the workforce for them.