Can Tesco tell checkout staff to lose weight?

Odd 'healthy lifestyle advice' dished out to Tesco staff: is this helpful, and is it fair?

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Tesco investigation

Tesco boss Dave Lewis, has put a note on the staff website telling the supermarket's 314,000 employees how to get fit. Reports claim that the memo offers bizarre tips, including taking frequent trips to the water cooler, and running on the spot. He's not the first employer to launch a fitness drive at work, but is it helpful, and is it fair?

The Sun reported that advice includes using breaks to keep moving, taking a walk or doing some stretches. It also recommends having 'walking meetings' to boost exercise and creativity. Once at home, it even suggests using TV advert breaks to run up and down the stairs, jog on the spot, or do some crunches.

Tesco told the newspaper: "Colleagues asked us to help them think about their health and we are happy to lend a hand with some ideas to stay active."

Is this helpful?

On its own, it's difficult to see how this sort of advice can be terribly practical - let alone transform the health of employees. There aren't many people who would willingly get off the sofa to do sit-ups in the middle of Coronation Street just because their boss said it might be a good idea.

However, it's worth pointing out that this isn't the only thing the supermarket does to try to keep staff healthy. It also offers access to an occupational health team, a healthcare cash plan, a health and wellbeing app, discounts on health insurance, and voucher offers for Tesco Diets - among other things. These new tips form part of a broad 'wellbeing policy', which is not considered controversial for the industry.

Healthy initiatives run for employees are well established across the UK. Employers argue that they are helping staff improve their lives, and admit that healthy staff also tend to take less time off sick, and be more productive at work, so it pays employers to offer these benefits too.

Going further

Other employers have gone further. Last month, the Department of Health rolled out a scheme to encourage NHS staff to lose weight. It estimates that 700,000 of its employees have weight issues, and has established three weight-loss programmes - depending on how much weight the staff member needs to lose. At the moment this is purely a pilot scheme in one trust in London. It is entirely voluntary, but has reported an overwhelming number of volunteers.

In the US, meanwhile, a number of companies offer weight loss reward programmes, where staff can win cash prizes for hitting weight-loss goals - and are given support to help them set those goals and achieve them.

Going too far?

Elsewhere in the world, weight loss is mandatory in some businesses - particularly airlines. In 2011, Thai Airways provided BMI and waist measurements and gave employees six months to lose weight. A year earlier Turkish Airlines gave 28 air stewards six months to lose weight or face the sack.

This won't become widespread in the UK because if you are overweight, but perfectly capable of doing your job, then you cannot be sacked just because you are overweight - neither can you be forced to lose weight to keep your job.

If your weight has a direct impact on the business, this must be proven by your employer before you are dismissed. If it has an impact on your ability to do the job, this also has to be proven. This is often where airlines can argue their case, saying that if an air steward is too large to walk down a plane aisle they are no longer capable of going their job.

But what do you think? Should your employer be able to force you to lose weight? Should they be allowed to encourage you to do it? And are the hints and tips published by Tesco really going to help? Let us know in the comments?

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