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Should all employees in the industry be in great shape?

Tex McIver, Justin Tamsett, Gary Klenchiski and Emily Liskow discuss a touchy subject for this week's Best Practices.

Q. “How do you handle an overweight staff member that may be hindering the message we try to convey about health and wellness?"

A. Fitcorp is committed to employing talented people and supporting them to achieve their highest potential. Our employees should reflect the diversity of our customers, markets and communities where we operate; and their diverse capabilities enable Fitcorp to anticipate and meet our customers’ needs. That means, we treat all employees with respect and dignity.

It is not our job to judge or discriminate- rather to help and encourage our employees, just like our members, to engage in a fitness regimen that is right for them. 

Emily Liskow
Director of Sales & Marketing


and Gary Klencheski
President & CEO

A:  This is one of the toughest aspects of a fitness business: looking the part. I think this must be handled super delicately. You cannot discriminate and there are many fit and overweight people. I would suggest that you have an informal discussion over a cup of coffee. I think you should be honest and fair. I would suggest not being accusatory. Rather take a counselling approach as there maybe factors that you are unaware of that have resulted in this situation. 

I have clients who in their job description outline that ALL staff will have an annual fitness test. They emphasise the importance of your physical shape. I have other clients who have solid (maybe termed overweight) staff. So there is a place for all shapes and sizes. For some people a larger staff member could be far less intimidating. 

The key is for you to be comfortable having this discussion and it not being a discriminatory conversation. 

Justin Tamsett
Active Management

A. As we all know, obesity is becoming a big problem in our society and in the workplace. To combat this, employers are aggressively implementing health and wellness programs into the workplace to encourage healthier lifestyles and to improve employee morale. However, employers must make sure they are not requiring or making employees feel coerced into participating in these programs. The key is to encourage participation, and inform the employees of the long term benefits for them engaging in a healthier lifestyle. Therefore, when dealing with an overweight staff member who might be avoiding the health and wellness message, employers should make sure they are sensitive and understanding towards that employee’s situation.

Our advice is to remind the employee of the benefits of living a healthier lifestyle, such as: being able to be more active with children and family members; better efficiency in the workplace; longer life span; being less susceptible to adverse health effects, and increased self-confidence. Furthermore, we would emphasize the rewards or incentives available for participating in these programs. For example, giving premium discounts on group health plans for employees who achieve a cholesterol level less than 200. But be sure that your message does not come across too harshly or create the appearance that the Company is unhappy about the employee’s lack of participation. You need to ensure that the employee does not feel discriminated against or retaliated against for his or her lack of participation. On that point, employers should also make sure that their wellness programs are in compliance with federal laws such as HIPAA, the ADA, Title VII, and GINA.[1]  It is best to check with your labor and employment attorney, or our authors, if you have any questions about these laws or implementing these programs. 

[1] (HIPAA) Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act, (ADA) American’s with Disabilities Act, (Title VII) Title VII Civil Rights Act of 1964, (GINA) Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Tex McIver
Senior Partner
Fisher & Phillips, LLP


Editor’s Note: One of the most frequently consulted sections of IHRSA’s Website,, is “Best Practices,” which features answers from industry experts to a wide range of thought-provoking questions. Beginning this month, we’ll highlight some of them in this new CBI column.

Visit to read responses to more than 100 questions such as these or to submit a question of your own to be answered.

Reader Comments (3)

Here's the problem with these PC answers: If we are going to employ people to encourage, persuade and motivate other people to participate in an active lifestyle, they need to do it as well. As Zig Ziglar says, "You can't be one kind of person and another kind of salesperson". If our team members continually participate in positive lifestyle choices, they will be eventually be fit individuals. It's okay to be overweight, as long as you are a work-in-progress. If they aren't making healthy based lifestyle choices, chances are they aren't a good long term fit for our organization. That message needs to be part of our company culture. At certain Ford plants, people with "non-Fords" have to park in remote lots. Apple employees don't show up for work carrying HP laptops. Fitness isn't just something we sell, it's part of our DNA.
September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Spence
Really John? Not everyone fits YOUR opnionated comment. I've been in fitness
industry for over 20 years as an overweight individual. I'm about to surpass a million dollars in sales this year. Obese or not, it's hard work that makes you successful, not body type. Take your nose out of the clouds and enjoy a donut.
September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterReal American
Thanks for your comment "Real American". However, I learned a long time ago to dismiss anonymous criticism quickly. If you can't back it up with your own name, it loses some significance. I stand by my earlier statements.
September 24, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJohn Spence

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