Having survived almost exclusively on mince-pies and red wine over the festive period, I waddled into January with that familiar feeling of gluttony and self-loathing. The only saving grace is that I am not alone – I had been in the office no more than five minutes today when conversations about Christmas swiftly turned to bold statements along the lines of: “In January I’m going to detox / eat more healthily / go to the gym / give up alcohol / lose weight…”.
This got me thinking – does an employer have any responsibility for helping employees stick to their New Year’s “New Me” Resolutions? Could a business be accused of failing to take reasonable steps to protect employee health if it does not offer acai berries and herbal teas alongside the pasties and pastries in the staff canteen? Might an employee claim that his employer had a duty to provide on-site gym facilities to prevent desk-bound staff developing round rears? Should employers ban the “birthday / been on holiday / Friday / it’s raining / we feel like it” cakes that loiter alluringly in staff kitchens, for fear of personal injury claims for unnecessary exposure to high cholesterol?
Whilst there are duties on employers to take reasonable steps to protect the health and safety of its employees, it would be a brave individual who claimed that his employer should protect him from the dangers posed by cake. But you can see the argument: it is beyond dispute that cakes are bad for you (apart from rice cakes, which are inedible anyway). It is reasonably foreseeable that cakes left in a staff kitchen will be eaten and that harm will be done as a result. It is within the employer’s powers to prevent this, and so by not doing so it is negligently exposing its staff to a known risk of injury to their health. Would you put a bet on no-one running that in the next 12 months?
Separately, I have been asked by a client whether obesity by itself is a disability and therefore protected under the Equality Act 2010. The answer is firmly “no” (the case of Walker v Sita Information Networking Computing Ltd confirmed as much last year). However, obesity may make it more likely that someone is disabled, given the health conditions which are caused and/or exacerbated by being over-weight. Since employers are under a duty to make reasonable adjustments where someone is disabled, is it really too big a stretch to suggest this duty extends to providing subsidised gym membership, or healthy food choices at meetings, like those “cereal bars” which consist largely of grit and balsa wood?
I for one would see this as an issue arising from one’s own failure to make intelligent and responsible decisions and then looking for someone else to blame. I’d also throw in the people who were outraged when they bought a lasagne for 29p and found it contained a large dollop of pony. Alcohol now bears the warning “Please drink responsibly”, but do we really need chocolate wrappers to include warnings that state “May cause weight gain. Please eat responsibly” or employers to carry the can in the meantime? No. Get a grip, for heaven’s sake.
If you’re failing in your New Year’s Resolutions already it’s down to you, not your employer. On that note, pass the Quality Street…