Should employers be able to regulate your personal life?

The Pentagon is considering a recommendation that it ban tobacco use among all members of the military. Likewise, professional sports teams routinely prohibit athletes from skiing, riding motorcycles or playing pick-up basketball due to risk of injury. Should employers be able to regulate your personal life?

No. Unless it is detrimental to the job or poorly reflects values of the profession personal life is just that…personal. That’s like asking if health care providers should bar obese people from working in the health care profession since it doesn’t portray a healthy lifestyle. There needs to be a limit to personal interference. I may have my disdain for obesity, substance use,ignorance and rudeness but to each his own…I am no more superior than the next person. -Teri Gibbons, Rochester, MN

The fine line between work and personal life has been wearing away for some time. As work life and personal life start to blur employers are naturally going to try to regulate the behavior of their employees since they now represent their respective companies both in and out of the work place. I don’t think it’s right for employers to regulate the average blue collar worker. Regulating people outside of the workplace feels like an assault on individual rights. I can understand some regulation of military or professional sports because their physical condition directly relates to their job performance… but that’s a slippery slope. -Jonathan Campbell, Hopkins, MN

I use to think America was founded and based on freedom? I guess pretty soon employers, along with government, will be able to regulate how many and when their employees can decide to have children. -Kimberly Johannsen, Shoreview, MN

I am a strong believer in positive reinforcement to a healthier lifestyle . So incentives towards that goal make sense to me. If that can be accomplished by companies through their health plans , it will reduce the overall cost of treatment after the onset of issues. We must work towards preemptive model with respect to health care . Companies in the US can push that forward . Outside of health I do not see anything wrong with a personal contract which precludes destructive behavior. -Tom Mallon, Minneapolis, MN

Not sure those examples are comparable. Pro athletes have professionally negotiated contracts that pay them handsomely. Army grunts have almost infinitely less leverage with their employer. This isn’t a yes/no question. Would it be sane for employers to mandate a perfectly healthy lifestyle, including exercise (low impact – watch the joints!), no fat, no meat, no white wine, no breathing polluted air? Obviously not, but it does make sense to provide incentives for behavior that will enhance productivity – subsidized gym memberships, etc. We’re working more than ever, we need to keep our private lives for ourselves. -Ben Gillies, St. Paul, MN

When in a college track program, I was not allowed to swim or ski. No hardship then. Employers are not allowed to ask personal questions at interview time, therefore they should not be able to dictate behavior after hiring. I gave my hours to each employer as negotiated for pay and benefits. They should never be able to then Change the Rules after agreeing to the hours and responsibilities. -John Reay, Minneapolis, MN

I find a military smoking ban absurd. I’d like to see how they plan to tell infantrymen in a prolonged fire fight that the no smoking light is on. -Jess

Two chief issues come to mind: (1) Timing. There’s a difference between ad hoc changing regulations after the employee is hired vs. those written up-front into an initial hiring contract. The latter seems more reasonable, the former is borderline fascistic. (2) Purpose & Symmetry. Presumably, regulations serve the betterment of the company. In this era of run-it-to-the-ground and slash&burn management, off-shoring, and bailing out, the next consideration is the basic asymmetry of the problem: employers desire to dictate how employees must live, but apparently management is free to practice company-self-destructive behavior? -Paul Bramscher, Circle Pines, MN

I believe there are professions out there that have reasonable expectations on performance that overlap into personal life. I also believe there are professions that have little, if any, overlap and should not have “off-duty” life activities scrutinized by their employer. I believe this is something that requires healthy debate and an open mind on the part of both employers and employees. -Leanne Kunze, Waconia, MN

My answer is simple. As long as the employer bears a financial burden (whether it be in higher health insurance rates or workers compensation costs) for personal habits that affect your health, they should be able to issue some rules in regards to those personal habits while you work. People can’t have it both ways, to have their lung cancer treatment paid for by the employer sponsored health insurance AND refuse to give up smoking while at work. -Kari Harding, Canby, MN

In the case of the military, the contract you enter essentially states that you are property of the military during the duration of your enlistment. As far as employment at will I don’t believe that an employer should have the right to dictate your lifestyle. That could be a very slippery slope that would be very hard to back peddle from. That kind of control encroaches on the individual civil rights and liberties that are the corner stone of american citizenship. -Jesse Zeimet, Minneapolis, MN

No!! This sets a dangerous precedent and borders on violating one’s right to privacy. -Sandra Henry, Bolingbrook, IL

Yes, if a reasonable person would think that the banned behavior could harm the company. Companies have a right to do what is in their best interest. If you own a football team and a player gets hurt and can’t play, you loose money. So, you can say, “If you want to play for my team, you can’t ski or ride a motorcycle.” Jobs are voluntary. The government, on the other hand, should not be able to regulate my personal life. -Chris Erickson, Minneapolis, MN

No, but they do, always have, and always will. Even if laws may keep them from firing those employees they do not consider to be the kind of people they wish to employ, they can and will retaliate however they can, and reward those that do as they suggest. -Paul Lareau, Little Canada, MN

You can not include situations where there is an employment contract in this debate. Professional sports and military both have contracts and therefore the employer can regulate what ever they want within the bounds of the contract. For the military, smoking should have been banned long ago, who wants a soldier to be in battle and have a twitchy finger because they need a fix? Where the employment is at-will, employers should not be able to regulate your personal life, this includes blogs and other items as long as they are not disparaging to the employer. -Richard Garnett, Minneapolis, MN

Only if said banned behavior affects the job. -Dustin, Montgomery, MN

If you don’t like what an employer is asking in exchange for employment…don’t work for them! I have a choice which company I work for, I do NOT have a choice which government governs me. -Dennis Fisher, Dayton, MN

I think if it could potentially affect your job performance by a considerable amount, it is reasonable for your employer to ask. For example, if you were a model, your employer may not want you getting inappropriate tattoos or making drastic appearance changes as it could affect sales of product, the image a company is trying to sell, and so on. Let’s keep in mind that people apply for a job of their own free will. If you do not like the demands or requirements of a job, then you can always look somewhere else. Although I do think there is a fine line between what is okay and not okay for an employer to ask of their employees. -Keli Holtmeyer, Maple Grove, MN

No! But they do. No explanations or discussions needed and they will continue to regulate personal lives until folks realize they have lost a lost of basic freedoms along with comfort zones. This regulation is subtle and not painful yet but it’s coming. Period. -Bertie Williams

I am amazed at people’s thinking; on the one hand people absolutely resent a government health plan, because it might be socialistic. On the other hand they allow the government to regulate their private actions…No smoking, no abortions, no gays in the military… I dont get it.. are these regulations not interfering with the social texture of this society??? -Regina Rippel, St. Paul, MN

Share your reply in the comments: Should employers be able to regulate your personal life?

  • Greg Filice

    For more than 30 years I have worked as a physician at the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Hospital. About a quarter of our patients have tobacco-related diseases. Many of these patients die after long, painful, disfiguring illnesses caused by tobacco. Many took up smoking and became addicted while in the military. Here, the tobacco company marketing messages that associated tobacco use with strength, virility, and rebelliousness are particularly effective. It is painful and ironic as we care for those who served by defending our country to know that their military experience left them addicted to a product that when used as directed will kill half of them. The military should do everything possible to prevent tobacco use among personnel.

  • Nathan Affield

    Intrusion into the private lives of employees should only exist when such behavior is related to the company.

    for instance, if your position at a company puts you in the public? You represent that company, and have to reflect that.

    If what you do doesn’t effect the company you work for, then there’s not need to regulate, is there?

  • Joey Iverson

    Now more than ever, we ought to be fully aware that there are not always enough openings around for job-seekers to have “free will” in choosing an employer. Sometimes, too, huge blocks of companies will impose the same limits on their personnel, so that candidates have precious few opportunities to avoid having their rights trampled. Witness the enormous popularity of drug screening, for instance; you can hardly find a halfway-reputable job in America anymore without having the chemicals in your body searched without suspicion or cause.

    In other words, we can’t rely on the free market to adequately regulate HR policies. That’s why we have legislation that combats racial discrimination, for example; the rights of citizens would otherwise be neglected. Citizens also have a right to privacy, and it’s high time we enacted laws to ensure that right was preserved.

  • bsimon

    Employers should not be able to regulate our personal lives. For me that means if they want me to pee in a cup, I will not work for them. Not that they’d find anything in my pee, but that I don’t want to work for anyone who thinks they have the right to look.

  • Dan Haugen

    A better question might be “Should employers regulate your personal life?” A smart company that wants to recruit and retain the best and brightest should be wary of intrusive rules that might make it a less desirable place to work. Why risk causing disgruntled employees for polices that are likely going to be difficult or impossible to enforce anyway?

  • Maggie

    Absolutely not. I agree with “Jess” above – I would also love to see them try to tell our troops on the front lines that they can’t smoke. Cigarettes used to be a part of the ration packs, for cryin’ out loud!

    In my own life, I have had trouble with this. At a job, within the same week, I had my employer at a small family-owned business accuse me both of having attention deficit disorder… and a urinary tract infection (this happened within a month of my grandmother’s death… when I worked to within an hour of the wake). I think that when it comes down to it, it doesn’t matter what I have going on at a basic health level up to a “family emergency” level – my personal life is just that, “mine” and “personal,” and the day I have an employer tell me otherwise is the day I find another job.

  • Angela Lestat

    I can understand how the military might be brought to consider the idea of banning smoking and how sports managers would want their players to take it easy, but that doesn’t make it a correct decision.

    Taking that liberty away, not enabling them to make a personal decision such as smoking, implies that we don’t believe they can reasonably govern themselves. An employer could say that they would prefer the employee not smoke, but being able to ban any activity is a slippery slope. Where does it end? If I’m a public speaker, does that mean my employer can ban me from concerts or sports contests as I may scream and shout so much that I lose my voice?

    And to chime in with “Maggie”- it is a personal choice.

    I, personally, would leave any employer who tried to tell me how to live my life.

  • Amy Seaman

    I’m afraid I find this question a bit blackly humorous. In 37 states I can be denied employment, or fired from my job simply because I am gay. Also, there is no federal law prohibiting those actions either.

    I find myself smiling as I read people’s answers and their grave concern over the right to privacy and personal freedom.

    However, I will answer the question posed;

    No, I believe the employer has no right in stipulating anyone’s actions outside of the workplace. It is, indeed, a slippery slope.

    Obviously employers look at the lack of protection that many groups of people have under the law and believe that they can impose whatever regulation they believe will improve their bottom line.

    Finally, I’m sick unto death of America treating business as having the same rights as her citizens. The decisions made by a business are generally made by a very small group of people. As our recent economic past has shown, many of these people have only their own best and greedy interests in mind. I hope people keep that in mind as they consider this question.

    Finally, my mom died of lung cancer, she was a smoker, and she believed, as I do, that it was her right, and her responsibility to deal with the consequences of her actions. Not the governments.

  • Thomas

    Employers should have some say on its employee’s personal life, but only in two instances:

    1) When such behavior negatively impacts job performance, and

    2) When regulating behavior (i.e., such as that which leads to

    obesity, etc.) would increase company-sponsored health

    insurance premiums. Why should my monthly premiums go to

    pay for a coworker’s blood pressure medication because they

    choose to be obese and choose to smoke?

    Outside of these two purposes, such an infringement on personal privacy is ripe of unintended consequences.

  • Dan

    Is it legal to know what you do when you are off the clock? I know someone where they work, their class schedules are demanded for part-time employees so the store manager can determine the hours you can work. Legally can he do this?

  • Emily

    until there is a draft, being in the military is also a profession or job of choice. any employment is a personal choice. an employer shouldn’t get to change the rules mid-game unless there is compensation for those that don’t want to play their way and choose to leave that place of employment.

    but YES an employer has a right to be concerned about the quality of employees. as a school teacher, when a fellow teacher from my school is out doing something that is against the rules of the school, and members of our school are witness or hear about it, our reputation as a school has just been destroyed.

    every employer can feel the same way.

    as people, we always have a choice: choice of behavior, choice of employment. but we don’t have a choice of what the consequences are.

  • Smiplemowhile

    Hello. And Bye.

  • Connie Byers

    I lived in Minnesota from age five. I am now fifty-five and refuse to live in that state. Employers have destroyed my career due to my being a smoker. What right they had to do such is not a thing is not an issue any longer. I left and I hope that makes a statement to their efforts.

    I do agree that smoke-free buildings are a good thing. I do agree that there are healthy choices that a person can make. However, to violate one’s right to choose, and to force people is a step beyond, and one that should not continue.

    I made the choice to leave the state and live in a manner that is healthier to me, even if I do continue to smoke.

  • Irish Dave

    Just found this article. I guess the question I gotta ask is where does it end? If there’s one thing I’ve found to be true, once you give people a little leeway, they want more. So where does it end? How intrusive do these employers want to be? Give people a finger, they want your arm next.