Can Your Employer Make You Work Out?

Lots of employers offer health plans that give you some financial incentive for making healthy lifestyle choices, like quitting smoking or joining a gym. These are sometimes considered perks, touted as great reasons to choose Company A over Company B. Sure, we get it. But what happens when a company mandates that you work out every day? Is that illegal or just a jerk move?

Exercising Office Worker
Image Credit: RyanJLayne/Getty Images

It’s Probably Not Illegal (Most of the Time)

An employer can make a daily group activity a condition of employment (dodgeball for everyone at 3 p.m.!), but according to Keisha-Ann G. Gray, who wrote about this issue on HRE Daily in 2010, they have to make reasonable accommodation for those who can’t participate. If you’re disabled, or otherwise unable to play a rigorous game of HORSE in the afternoon — you have to be excused.

If “daily group exercise is not an essential component of the job, but is made mandatory by the employer, the employer must excuse some employees from it or allow them to participate in a modified program (i.e., provide a reasonable accommodation) so as not to negatively impact employees who have physical limitations and disabilities and to avoid running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” Gray writes.

So voluntary with incentives = good idea. Mandatory with penalties = legal headache for your employer.

It’s Kind of a Jerk Move

So yes, those with a disability would need to be excused so as not to run afoul of U.S. law, but in other countries, this isn’t a problem. At Mashable, Yvette Tan notes that a Chinese tech company is making its employees get 10,000 steps in a day, or be punished with … pushups. (And you thought pushups as punishment ended in middle school gym classes!) They can get these steps in during the workday, say, on time spent outdoors together at lunch (yay!) or during their commutes to and from work (kind of yay!), but they have to get them in. Failure to do so means a penalty of 50-100 pushups. Yikes!

But It’s Also Kind of Helpful?

The Japanese are often workplace innovators, and they even beat us to the punch with group exercise at work. Honda famously wrangled incoming assembly line workers into exercise programs designed to strengthen the muscles they’d need for making cars all day long. Now, Google offers on-site fitness centers, as well as bocce courts and a bowling alley for employees to blow off steam. You wouldn’t think that an energy company would spend the time on Eastern enlightenment practices, but ConocoPhillips offers employees afternoon Tai Chi classes.

Whatever you choose to do, exercising before work, after work, or during work, it’s still a good idea (so says the American Heart Association) to get in those steps, and get your workouts in more than a few times a week. If you’re able to do something on the clock at work and get paid for it, maybe it’s not so bad. As long as nobody is making you line up on that dodgeball line like you’re back in 8th grade about to get nailed in the head by your nemesis, it’s all good.

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