We are considering an employee weight loss competition and an in-office scale per the suggestion of our employees and to encourage workplace health awareness. The competition would not be an office-sponsored event and we do not have a wellness plan. Do you have any best practice suggestions?

Answer: Weight loss is a sensitive topic and a weight loss challenge in the workplace may be problematic. If you establish the challenge, then notify your employees that it is a personal challenge and is not employer mandated. Although this program could be sponsored by you or the employees, an employer cannot mandate participation or penalize for nonparticipation.

Here are some best practices for implementation:

  • Ensure that the program is fair and objective; consider whether an outside provider may be best suited to monitor and run the program.
  • Ensure participants understand the sensitive nature of such a competition and the need to keep it professional, supportive, and measurable in a way that does not disclose personal or private details (weight, medical condition, etc.).
  • Encourage healthy eating and an easy to follow exercise regime. Provide educational materials on weight loss with an emphasis on health.
  • Encourage participating employees to seek the advice of a health care advisor or medical professional before participating in the program.
  • Do not publicize any individual’s actual weight.
  • Discourage any unhealthy methods of weight loss (starvation, use of water pills, etc.).
  • Require the organizer to draft a statement detailing that the program is voluntary, and require all participants to read, sign, and date the statement. The statement should outline the following:
    • The program is employee sponsored and voluntary.
    • The amount each participant is contributing toward the biggest weight loss between X and Y date (if a monetary prize is involved).
    • How the weight loss will be confirmed, validated, and who will determine the winner. Best practice is to only use percentage of weight lost rather than actual weight.
    • How the prize money will be allocated/returned/distributed in case of termination, employees leaving the program, injury, etc.
    • How a tie (equal weight loss between participants) will be handled.

See the federal Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion’s 7 Simple, Fun Wellness Challenges to Start at Work for some helpful tips. Also, June is the Global Employee Health and Fitness Month, so your program may be timed perfectly.

(The content contained herein is for informational purposes only. It is not intended, nor should it be taken, as legal or tax advice or a substitute for legal counsel.)