Global: Firm kicks staff with a carbon footprint

A multinational firm has docked the pay of workers it considered to have too large a carbon footprint outside of work. The trial by global engineering consultancy WSP involved 80 UK based employees. Threequarters were rewarded but a quarter, including managing director Stuart McLachlan, were fined. WSP now intends to expand the “successful” scheme.

The Times (London) reports: “Unlike the energy-saving schemes adopted by thousands of companies, the rationing scheme monitors employees’ personal emissions, including home energy bills, petrol purchases and holiday flights.”

The article does not discuss possible complicating factors, for example the impact on lower paid workers or those with caring responsibilities or workers who might not be able to turn down the heating or up the cycling because of health or other considerations.

Nor does it address the privacy implications. If the company has a hand in everything from your holiday plans to your fuel use, many might consider that oversteps any notion of a reasonable degree of intrusion, in fact they’d have good reason to believe it was none of the employer’s damn business.

‘Lifestyle discrimination’ has been identified as an increasing concern by the US National Workrights Institute.

It notes: “Private employers are using the power of the paycheck to tell their employees what they can and cannot do in the privacy of their own homes. The National Workrights Institute believes that what a person does during non-working hours away from the workplace should not be the basis for discrimination.”

This does not appear to be a concern for WSP, however. The Times reports the firm is planning a dramatic expansion the scheme and is in discussions with several FTSE 100 companies.

The Big (Green) Brother tactics require employees to submit quarterly reports detailing their consumption. They are also set a target, which reduces each year, for the amount of carbon they can emit.

In the WSP scheme, those who exceed their ration pay a fine for every kilogram they emit over the limit. The money is deducted from their pay and the level of the fine is printed on payslips. Those who consume less than their ration are rewarded at the same rate per kilogram.

The maximum that an employee can earn or be fined has been capped at £100, but is likely to rise once staff have grown accustomed to the idea.

WSP, the global engineering consultancy, has been conducting the rationing scheme among 80 of its British employees for almost two years. In the first year the overall carbon footprint of participants fell by 10 per cent.

The privacy implications may be more dramatic, however. The National Workrights Institute notes: “Virtually every lifestyle choice we make has some health-related consequence.

“Where do we draw the line as to what an employer can regulate? Should an employer be able to forbid an employee from going skiing? Or riding a bicycle? Or sunbathing on a Saturday afternoon? All of these activities entail a health risk.

“The real issue here is the right of individuals to lead the lives they choose. It is very important that we preserve the distinction between company time and the sanctity of an employee’s private life. Employers should not be permitted to regulate our lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

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