Is mandatory exercise at work legal? 05-13-2009
Is it lawful for my employer to make us stretch before starting work? This is something I have a hard time doing.
Ann Kiernan replies:
Wellness programs, which can include items ranging from exercise programs to cholesterol screening to smoking cessation classes, have become increasingly popular with employers looking to control health costs. But there are legal limits. Wellness programs at work must comply with Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) rules that prohibit employer-sponsored health plans from discriminating based on health factors. The Americans with Disabilities Act strictly limits when an employer may ask questions about a worker's health or require the worker to have a medical examination. Any wellness program also must take into account age and gender differences among employees. If the workplace is unionized, a wellness program would probably be the subject of mandatory collective bargaining. Finally, state privacy laws must be considered.
In addition, it is questionable whether stretching programs really reduce workplace injuries. Some ergonomic experts say that warm-up exercises at the start of a shift are much better than stretching programs for getting workers physically and mentally ready to work.
You should talk to your doctor about whether there is a medical reason you should not be participating in the stretching program at work. Are you having trouble performing any of your job functions? If so, let your doctor know that, as well. And then let your employer know if there are any medical restrictions on your participation in the stretching program or any other work activity.
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