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When mandatory exercise at work meets employees’ rights to privacy and non-discrimination: a comparative and European perspective
European Labour Law Journal  (IF),  Pub Date : 2021-02-19, DOI: 10.1177/2031952521994302
Céline Brassart Olsen

In 2017, the municipality of Copenhagen made exercise mandatory for social workers performing physical tasks, such as lifting patients, cooking and cleaning. Private Danish companies have also started to impose exercise on their employees, including sedentary employees. Rationale behind mandatory exercise in the workplace is that it makes employees healthier and more productive, which is a win-win for employees and employers. However, mandatory exercise can put employees in a vulnerable position as employers potentially interfere with some of the fundamental rights of employees, namely their bodily autonomy and privacy. In addition, the increased emphasis on exercise at work and being ‘physically fit’ can indirectly lead to unlawful discrimination practices in recruitment, during employment, and at termination, as employers may exclude or sanction people who are not be able, or do not want, to exercise on various grounds, ranging from age, disability, pregnancy, religion, to health conditions. Therefore, this article examines the lawfulness of mandatory exercise at work in light of the fundamental rights of employees in two selected jurisdictions (Denmark and France), as well as under relevant European Union (EU) law, and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) and related case law. Using a comparative and European perspective, the article examines the legality of mandatory exercise at work in the selected jurisdictions. It analyses and compares the level of protection of employees’ rights to privacy, autonomy and non-discrimination in France and Denmark. It also assesses whether mandatory exercise could qualify as an occupational health and safety measure in the selected jurisdictions. The article examines these questions in light of the increasing recognition and integration of fundamental rights in labour law at European, EU, and national levels. The article finds that the French and Danish labour laws offer different levels of protection of employees’ rights to autonomy, privacy and the right to non-discrimination. As a result, mandatory exercise would likely be deemed to be legal in Denmark, and illegal in France. However, the legality of mandatory exercise under Danish law could be challenged in light of the strong protection of employees’ fundamental rights at EU and European levels. The article concludes that rather than an obligation, exercise should be framed as a right for employees.