How much control can your employer have over how you live your life? In the case of Christian charity World Vision, quite a lot, apparently – in the U.S. anyway.
World Vision reportedly requires employees at the American branch to follow a policy requiring sexual fidelity within marriage and abstinence outside of marriage. And the charity only recognizes heterosexual marriages.
The conduct code came to light recently when World Vision made headlines for announcing that it was revising its policy to recognize same-sex marriages and would begin hiring gay people as long as they lived within the code. But almost immediately, the plan was kiboshed, as organization leaders decided it wasn’t biblically consistent.
A statement signed by World Vision president Richard Stearns, and Chairman of the World Vision U.S. Board, Jim Beré, said,”The board acknowledged they made a mistake and chose to revert to our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees and faithfulness within the Biblical covenant of marriage between a man and a woman.”
So, nothing has changed. But many have been left scratching their heads after reading the news, and the phrase, “our longstanding conduct policy requiring sexual abstinence for all single employees.”
Because, how on earth would one go about enforcing that?
HRM Online tried to get that information, asking World Vision execs, “how the policy is applied; whether candidates are required to disclose sexual history; and whether employees have been fired for contravening the policy,” but the media outlet didn’t get any answers. One assumes they must rely on the honour system, self-reporting, and perhaps spies. Creepy.
Don’t worry. This sort of 17th Century-style code of conduct couldn’t stand in Canada. At least according to employment lawyer Brian Grosman who told me in no uncertain terms that “You could not do that in Canada.”
But there are oddly overreaching policies in place this side of the border. For example, one might wonder how Momentous, a Toronto company that made the news in 2013 for not hiring smokers, enforces its ban.
The National Post reported “Momentous’ 120 employees are not to smoke even in their off hours, or they risk termination.” This is allowed because, unlike being gay, smoking is not a “human right.”
Again, one assumes they rely on the honour system and tattle tales — you’re out for a drink and someone spots you smoking a cigarette, then rats you out. And in this case, maybe nicotine blood tests. (I asked Momentous for a comment but nobody replied).
Sure, at first glance, a non-smoker might think it’s no big deal. What difference does it make? Also, why should a company be required to hire people who would burden its productivity with illnesses and absences? But, for many of us, it’s the presumption and intrusion behind these measures that is off-putting, not to mention the idea of working for someone who presumes to intrude so far.
For one more example, we have to head back to the States. Last year, CVS, a chain of pharmacies, announced that it would require its staff to reveal their weight or pay a penalty. CVS employees must submit to annual tests for blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol levels, as well as body mass and body weight. Those who fail to do so pay a $600 annual surcharge.
“Going forward, you’ll be expected not just to know your numbers – but also to take action to manage them,” the policy reportedly stated. Smokers who work for the company were also warned that they must “either be tobacco-free by May 1, 2014, or participate in the WebMD tobacco cessation program.”
It’s unclear whether this could happen in Canada, as the jury is still out on whether obesity is a disability. But, while it’s true that, like smoking, obesity is linked to increased healthcare costs to employers and decreased productivity, I think I’d rather allow my employees some dignity.
Also, following the “we shouldn’t have to bear the cost of smokers and fat people” logic to its logical extension, nobody should have to bear the cost of anyone who engages in risky behavior , including skiers, speeders, mountain climbers and deep woods hikers. Is it fair to penalize someone because they enjoy eating over parkour? Here, World Vison’s policy starts to make a certain kind of sense: we should require employees to disclose their sexual activity, and penalize those with who don’t use condoms with multiple partners.
For now, anyway, you’re safe from having to do that for any reason. So, that’s something of a relief.
What do you think? Should employers be able to exert this level of control?