Earlier tonight we watched a fascinating segment on 60 Minutes called Whose Life Is It Anyway?, which explored the rights of employees and the corporations they work for. Or, I should say, it explored the fact that employees virtually have no rights in the workplace, especially around the issue of termination.

The piece was largely focused on Weyco, an insurance firm based in Lansing, Michigan, which gave its employees 15 months to quit smoking or else they were fired. Sure enough, after those 15 months, four employees were shown the door. On the other hand, 20 employees quit smoking – not so bad, as something like that not only improves the health of the employee, but also improves greatly the health of their loved ones who took in the second hand smoke.

The segment also went into brief detail about a Anheiser-Busch employee who was seen by company brass on a date (off work hours) and drinking a Coors Light, which the employee claimed was a waitress screw-up. Nonetheless, he was fired. Or how about a set of waitresses who would be fired if their body weight increases by just 7%? That also exists. Company mandated wellness plans are also out there and being instituted by some very large corporations. These wellness plans are esentially ongoing, never-ending homework assignments which require the employee to eat right and exercise. Some programs come complete with hired guns to actually call and check up on the employees to make sure they’re doing what they’re supposed to.

Is this a gross violation of your privacy or an effective and necessary program, a tough-love if you will, to get America healthy? Well, as much as anything else, it all comes back to one thing and that one thing is money. An amazing stat: on average, 5% of an employee work force typically make up 50% of a company’s payout in healthcare. So, to the effect that a company can get their workforce as healthy as possible, the money they save goes directly to the bottom line. Hah. And you thought companies cared, didn’t you? Shame shame! I suppose a degree of shame could be thrown back at me for putting such blanket assumptions out there – I’m sure there are companies who really do care. But you get the picture.

So, it’s perfectly legal for a company to fire you for just about any reason whatsoever. But where is the line crossed? It seems borderline outrageous to be fired for sitting down in the comfort of your own recliner and smoking a cigarette, doesn’t it, especially when you can pour yourself 10 Scotches at the bar next door to the office. Why is smoking the red-headed stepchild? Aren’t you risking your life on weekends when you’re out bicylcing in the street, hang-gliding, water-skiing or bungee jumping?

It’s all a bit Big Brother to me, really. It’s patently intrusive, in fact. I shouldn’t have some dude in a trenchcoat following me around with a clipboard, checking off boxes and reporting back to the boss. I mean, caveat emptor, right? It’s up to you to figure out what’s good and what’s not.

On the other hand, if a company mandates the collective to do twenty extra pullups and eat right and that results in each person losing 20 pounds and being that much healthier, what the hell’s wrong with that? What’s wrong with getting 20 out of 24 people (83%) to quit a habit (smoking) that’s been proven beyond reasonable doubt to be destructive and a health threat to innocents around them? Well, the answer lies in a few words and the word that matters most is compassion. If I believe the company really cares about me, even if we all know it helps the bottom line, then I’m more apt to be accepting. Weyco seems like they don’t give a crap about their employees, and their CEO simply came off as an ass.

I’m curious to know what you would think or do if your employer suddenly instituted such measures? I’m curious to hear from others who are actually in position and power to implement a program like this. What are your thoughts?