Swapping out Snickers bars for carrot sticks on your lunch break could make your waistline slimmer -- and your wallet fatter.
Congress is considering legislation that would make it easier for employers to provide financial rewards and benefits to workers who live healthy lifestyles -- and penalties to those who don't, the New York Times reported.
The new measure would give companies the ability to offer incentives, like tax credits or other cash benefits, to employees who eat well, avoid smoking and exercise regularly, a controversial plan that some say is a form of discrimination.
Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), one of two senators behind the legislation, said promoting health and wellness is essential in the workplace and that offering rewards to healthy employees is a reasonable way to encourage them to better their lives.
“Prevention and wellness should be a centerpiece of health care reform,” Harkin, who helped craft the bill with Democratic Montana Senator Max Baucus, told the Times.
The proposed bill would give companies tax credits if they offer programs like health screenings and counseling centered around exercise, eating habits, mental wellness and use of tobacco and alcohol.
The employers can then offer their workers products like gift certificates, discounts or other incentives to attend the workshops.
Congress is "certain" to include legislation about wellness programs in the workplace in its comprehensive health care bill, according to Frank B. McArdle, who works at benefits consulting firm Hewitt Associates, the Times reported.
Opponents of Harkin and Baucus' plan say giving cash rewards only to "healthy" workers is a form of discrimination that's on par with sexism or ageism.
“You are supposed to be paid on the basis of how you do your job, not how often you go to the gym or how many cheeseburgers you eat,” Lewis Maltby, president of the National Workrights Institute, told the Times.
Federal laws currently mandate that employers can't offer rewards that amount to more than 20 percent of an employees' health care coverage -- but the new legislation would give employers the right to offer larger incentives.
Employers are also forced to navigate through a web of federal red tape under present laws before they can dole out cash for wellness programs, and the proposed bills would streamline the process for participating companies.