Health vs. Privacy: Employers Continue to Juggle Both

Wellness is a good thing. No one would debate the idea that a healthy workforce is a desirable workforce. What is questionable, though, is the role that an employer should play in “helping” its workforce to get healthy (and stay that way). Issues of employee privacy and paternalism are raised when employers begin “punishing” employees for what the employer considers to be unhealthy behavior. In a society where the line between work and home grows more blurry by the day, many have concerns that employers may be going to far when they regulate what its employees do during their off-duty, non-working time.

I’ve written many times before on initiatives to encourage workers to quit smoking and the “sticks” that may follow if they fail. I’ve also written about the recent surge in businesses that impose a “culture of thinness” on their employees. The popularity of wellness initiatives has caught on more quickly than you can say “Supersize.” Currently, 46% of employers offer incentive-based wellness plans and that number is expected to grow to 70% by 2009.

CNNMoney.com reports on an interesting story about one employer’s hard-line approach to achieving a healthy workforce. In “Lose Weight or Else!,” Mina Kimes discusses the wellness approach of Lincoln Industries. The metal-finishing company’s CEO, Marc LeBaron, brags about the company’s 100% participation rate-participation is mandatory.

Lincoln employees can take advantage of weekly yoga classes, gym memberships, and health seminars. And if they stick with it, they receive a $25 monthly discount on insurance premiums and a yearly cash reward of $160. But would your employees be as enthusiastic if they were required to get a quarterly checkup for body fat and blood pressure? Only 12% of employees reported that they are in favor of employer involvement in health care.

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