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Is a 'Chief Happiness Officer' Worth the Potential Legal Trouble?

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

The latest executive position trending among hip corporations is the "Chief Happiness Officer" or "CHO." The New Republic described the title flatteringly as "the latest, creepiest job in corporate America," but it might be worth a second look.

From what we've gathered, CHOs are responsible for the well-being of a company's employees in ways that surpass that of a typical HR department. But many CHO critics warn that tracking employee happiness can lead employers down an invasion-of-privacy rabbit hole -- one your business may not wish to fall into.

So is a Chief Happiness Officer really worth the potential legal trouble?

Come On, Get Happy

We doubt that anyone is arguing that employee happiness isn't important to a small business' bottom line. Along with transparency, morale may be one of the keys to your small business' success and growth, especially during trying times.

The New Republic describes how tech companies like Google and even smaller restaurant companies like Hopjacks have their own CHOs to evaluate the "emotional well-being of their workers, as well as adjusting workplace policy and culture in order to create the conditions for happiness." In one sense, it seems like a title for something which every small business' management should already be doing. On the other hand, if delegating the responsibility for a healthy workplace culture to one person gets the job done, then so be it.

There is a delicate balance to be struck between an oppressive "fun boss" and someone who actually leads the improvement of an office's environment.

  • Fired or worried about conditions at work? Get in touch with a knowledgeable employment attorney in your area today.

Potential Privacy Pitfalls

Often attempts to make a small business office more "fun" can open an employer up to legal liability (see holiday parties). Some of the criticism of CHOs comes from the omnipresence of the position in monitoring employees' happiness. As The New Republic notes, the Orwellian tones of "Chief Happiness Officer" aren't a coincidence; CHOs often lead to some rather intrusive office policies.

For example, a CHO may take it upon him or herself to monitor employee email accounts for signs of unhappiness, which can typically only be done with consent or in the ordinary course of business. And the more CHOs get involved in the personal and social interactions, the more like the company is to create friction with protected union activities .

So consider whether a Chief Happiness Officer is worth these legal headaches. Your business can still be happy without one.

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