Privacy and Integrity Questions About Workplace Wellness

Issues of privacy and integrity in workplace wellness programs are surfacing as more employers are preparing to implement incentives and penalties for health. Programs for two large public institutions — one for Penn State employees and one for Nebraska state government employees — are under fire.

The program at Penn State will impose a $100 monthly penalty for employees who refuse a health screening with an online assessment and a wellness examination that includes stepping on the scales for the university’s doctor. A professor of political science and public policy, Matthew Woessner, has mounted a campaign of resistance to disrupt the program. He’s encouraging his fellow employees to enter nonsense into their online screenings.

Reading from the profile he’s entered, Woessner says “I’m 3 feet 8 inches tall, I weigh 50 pounds, and my last cholesterol check was when I was six months old.” He also encourages them to have their wellness exams done by their personal physicians rather than physicians hired by the university for this purpose. Woessner sums up his objection this way:

The university has a chance to save a modest amount of money, and they think it is OK to throw our liberties and our privacy on the funeral pyre.

Penn State defends the program as their only alternative to passing stiff increases in health costs along to employees.

Separately, a well-established program for Nebraska state employees is under fire from a leading health economist and the state auditor for false claims about the program’s benefits. Al Lewis, President of the Disease Management Purchasing Consortium, says:

The bottom line is their numbers don’t add up. They’re spending millions of dollars to tell people three things they should already know: Stop smoking, eat healthier foods and exercise more.

All this ferment makes two things clear. Integrity is essential to the success of a workplace wellness program. And people get very touchy about an employer trying to tell them how much they should weigh.

An employer that starts a program without a strong, genuine commitment to a culture of health in the workplace shouldn’t bother.

Click here to read more about the Penn State program from NPR, and click here to read more about the Nebraska program from the Omaha World Herald.

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me, photograph © Jason Mrachina / flickr

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