Penn State Backs Out of Wellness Penalties

Penn State backed out of wellness penalties this week after protests from faculty and employees continued to attract unwanted national attention. President Rodney Erickson announced the change, saying:

We have decided to suspend the $100-per-month surcharge so that people who are uncomfortable with any aspect of the survey will not feel as if they are being penalized.

The abrupt reversal came just a few days after the New York Times reported a faculty uprising at Penn State over the university demanding sensitive personal data like body weight. Dissatisfaction with the intrusive wellness program had been brewing among faculty and employees since it was rolled out in the quiet of summer.

Faculty dissatisfaction poured out recently in a faculty senate meeting. When Highmark Health Services President Michael Fiaschetti told the faculty “That information is absolutely private,” professor Kimberly Blockett objected:

As an English professor, I think I am having difficulty with your definition of “private.” For me, discussing my reproductive plans with an unknown entity at an insurance company does not constitute private.

Says Matthew Bodie, a professor of labor and employment law at the St. Louis University School of Law:

The tensions between having employers manage health care coverage and employees wanting to have some private space are crashing into each other. It’s probably going to get worse.

None of this is necessary. A smart approach to employee wellness begins with an employer building an authentic culture of health in the workplace, where employees spend most of their waking hours.

Oh, and if you want to convince employees that you’re concerned about obesity, you better make sure your health plan covers the cost of treating it. Employers that don’t will be seen as hypocrites.

Click here to read more in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and here and here to read more in the New York Times.

Shake It All About, photograph © Rick Harrison / flickr

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