The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (which had previously filed lawsuits on behalf of employees negatively affected by “voluntary” wellness programs that force them to either turn over personal health information that their “wellness” program can use to further penalize them, or pay thousands of dollars) is now considering changing their protections to allow employees to be penalized up to 30% of the cost of employee only coverage for not participating in “voluntary” wellness programs and/or failing to achieve “health” outcomes which can include weight loss. See the full EEOC text here.
First of all, these screening programs are supposed to be voluntary, but the cost of not “volunteering” can be thousands of dollars (in the Honeywell Case about which the EEOC lawsuit was filed, it was around $4,000) So it’s only really voluntary for those who can afford $4,000 a year to take a stand for their own civil rights (at my house we call this getting “volun-told”)
These programs measure things that are not completely within – and sometimes not at all within –people’s control, and in some cases require people to enter into programs on their own time (Weight Watchers meeting at lunch anyone?) that not only don’t have a track record of efficacy, but may not be in keeping with the person’s health philosophies or the plan that they and their doctor created. If they refuse, they face monetary penalties.
These programs typically use BMI, a ratio of weight and height that isn’t a poor indicator of health so much as it its not in any way an indicator of health.
When we start messing with the acts that protect people from workplace discrimination on the basis of dis/ability and/or genetics we are at the top of a very steep slippery slope.
Not for nothing, but these programs don’t actually save any money (let alone make anybody any healthier.)
“In the randomized controlled trials(RCTs) — the Gold Standard for research trials and the one exclusively used by the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate new drug applications — ROIs for the interventions studies had an overall mean value of -0.22. This means that for every dollar invested in these programs, 78 cents was returned. In other words, the programs did not pay for themselves.”
And the research itself is super sketchy for a lot of reasons.
The argument is that employees who lead “healthy lifestyles” shouldn’t have to subsidize those who don’t. Neither body size nor metabolic numbers can tell you someone’s lifestyle, I also note that these programs don’t do anything about employees who participate in sports – including particularly dangerous sports – and are thus much more likely to cost the company money due to sports injuries. Apparently employees who don’t participate in sports are expected to subsidize those who do.
It seems to me that businesses aren’t necessarily looking at cost savings through employee “wellness” programs, but rather are looking at the fact that they’ll save thousands of dollars every time an employee stands up for their right to not literally turn their blood (and the blood of their spouses and children) over to their employer, not to mention making it easier to penalize employees for not meeting “wellness standards” that they cannot meet due to disability or genetics, and the EEOC is willing to weaken their protections of employees with disabilities to allow them to do that, and that is absolutely horrific.
These protections were put in place on purpose, to avoid exactly the kind of discrimination that this EEOC rule change would allow.
So what can you do?
Read this and sign this statement on behalf of people of size who will be affected by this. (Comments due by midnight on 6/18/15)
Read and comment on this ACLU statement on behalf of disabled people/people with disabilities. (Comments due by midnight on 6/19/15)
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