Employment: USA The CDC and The Corporate Nanny State

USA

Now they want your blood…

Are we seeing the start of the corporate nanny state?
November 1, 2014
by: JON TEVLIN , Star Tribune
First corporations wanted to be treated like people, so they could give more money to influence elections.
Now they want your blood.
Honeywell International, founded in Minnesota, recently implemented a plan to reduce health care costs and promote healthy living for employees.
Sounds good so far.
But the company went a step further by penalizing workers financially if they and their spouses refused to agree to a biometric testing.
That’s a harmless enough sounding concept. But what it means is you let medical providers for the company draw blood to check for health problems, such as diabetes. It means they would also would test you, and your spouse, for blood pressure, HDL, total cholesterol and glucose.
Oh, and they’d need your height and weight, and that of your spouse. And while they’re at it, let’s run a tape measure around your waistline to see how you are doing with that diet.
Failure to agree to the tests brings a hefty price, up to $4,000 per family in penalties and lost company contributions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said this goes too far. The agency filed suit in federal court in Minneapolis last week in behalf of two Minnesota employees, saying the health screening and penalties violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
The EEOC said refusing Honeywell’s program means a loss of $1,500 in company contributions to health savings accounts, a $500 medical plan surcharge, a $1,000 tobacco surcharge and a $1,000 ?spousal tobacco surcharge.
The EEOC says that such harsh financial repercussions virtually force employees to bow to the company’s edict, and thus it is not really voluntary.
In fairness, Honeywell is trying to get employees to be healthier while saving money on medical care. It said the EEOC was “woefully out of step with the health care marketplace.”
I’d say Honeywell was woefully out of step with keeping out of people’s business when they are off the job.
I’m all for “incentives” that get workers healthier: discounted gym memberships, weight loss groups, healthy choices in cafeterias, discounts for nonsmokers.
But in this case they have gone beyond “incentives” to punishment for personal choices that may or may not be affecting workers’ health.
They’ve gone from the carrot to the stick.
If you were bothered when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban giant sodas because you thought it was government overreach, you should be bothered by this. Corporations as the new nanny state.
It’s ludicrous to think a man can be penalized by his employer because his wife won’t comply with a company rule. She might be a marathon runner, for all they know, who simply finds the company’s tests intrusive and insulting.
Honeywell said in a statement that the medical details “are strictly confidential and not shared with the Company.”
Then what are they for?
According to the lawsuit, “Honeywell initially told its employees that it would use the results of the biometric tests to impose goals on the employees where they would be required to reduce their risk factors.”
Honeywell has since said it has delayed this part of the program, and has not decided whether it will revisit the use of biometrics to set goals.
Sure.
In other words: Hit the treadmill or else.
Rich Neumeister, a privacy advocate, has worked on legislation to protect employees from employer oversight while off the job.
“Minnesota has a strong history of statutes to keep the employer … from getting into your private business,’’ Neumeister said. “What I do after hours or what I eat or drink is not their concern.”
The company said its health plan complies with — or even results from — the Affordable Care Act. The federal law does promote employer incentives for preventive care, that’s true.
But think about it: One of the main selling points of the ACA was to prevent insurance companies from denying or punishing customers for prior health issues. Honeywell’s new policy in practice does exactly that.
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties U nion of Minnesota, said he was “very surprised and a little bit disturbed” by Honeywell’s plan. It’s not a civil rights issue, but rather an employee rights issue.
“This is a way to count their pennies,” said Samuelson. “It’s about saving money.”
Samuelson said companies often initiate health plans to save money, but then still insist on such things as heavy overtime, “which is profoundly unhealthy,” he said.
My dad worked for Honeywell, assembling thermostats and devices for their defense business. He gave them 30 years of his sweat, but I’m pretty sure he would never give them his blood.


Is the CDC Fueling Anti-Fat Bias in Workplaces?
November 2, 2014
BY BILL BRIGGS
A CDC campaign that gives U.S. bosses an “obesity cost calculator” to tally the financial losses linked to their overweight employees is being criticized as spurring workplace discrimination — and perhaps enticing companies to fire fat people.
LEAN Works!, a program offered by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, states on its website that “many organizations realize the need to assess the costs of obesity as it relates to their bottom line,” and reports the annual health care cost of obesity exceeds $140 billion.
Workplace weight bias is in the news again following the release of a Vanderbilt University study that found heavier U.S. women earn about 5 percent less than average-size women who hold similar jobs.
Now, some nutritionists and advocates for overweight Americans claim LEAN Works! is boosting anti-fat sentiments at work via its “obesity calculator.” That online tool lets supervisors plug in the body mass indices of all employees then tabulate the resulting costs to the companies in prescriptions, hospitalizations and work days lost.
For example, according to the LEAN Works! calculator, if a 520-person financial company, conducting business in several states, employs 200 people whose BMI (30 or higher) designates them as being obese, the company’s annual “medical and work loss costs” would total $438,600. (Those numbers are also based on U.S. Labor Department figures showing the average wage in financial jobs is $31 per hour.)
“Supposedly, LEAN Works! is meant to help companies provide support services for people who are fat. But I think it’s nothing more than a way to identify employees who should be terminated,” said Joanne Ikeda, nutritionist emeritus at the University of California, Berkeley. She said she wrote a letter of complaint to CDC leaders, saying LEAN Works! sends a bad message to American bosses.
“It really pisses me off,” Ikeda added, “that the government has allowed this to happen.”
CDC officials contend, however, that LEAN Works! offers a range of evidence-based resources to help work sites design wellness programs that improve the health of all employees, from worker bees up to CEOs.
“To our knowledge, no organization has used the LEAN Works! tool to ‘target’ overweight workers for termination,” said Deborah A. Galuska, associate director for science at the CDC’s division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity.
“Informing employers regarding the cost of obesity to their organization can help make the business case for providing a healthier work environment — one where nutrition and physical activity is valued,” Galuska added. “… LEAN Works! is not intended to contribute to workplace discrimination.”
She points out, too, that the cost calculator’s webpage states: “CDC’s LEAN Works! should not be used to promote discriminatory practices such as considering weight in hiring or other personnel decisions. Weight discrimination is a serious issue and evidence indicates that it occurs in the work place.”
Another weight-bias expert argues that such workplace discrimination is motivated not by the costs associated with heavier workers but simply by a personal distaste some supervisors hold against the image of larger people, especially larger women.
“If medical costs or productivity costs were driving the lower wages and lower employment experienced by obese workers, we would expect to see obese men and obese women encountering similar barriers in the labor market,” said Jennifer Shinall, assistant professor of law at Vanderbilt, and author of the earnings study. “In fact, we see much bigger penalties in the labor market for obese women than we see for obese men.”
But the CDC’s program is compounding those existing job disadvantages through its messaging and through its obesity cost calculator, said Peggy Howell, vice chairman and public relations director at the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.
“It concerns us that the government would invest all this time … to further stigmatize an entire segment of the population,” Howell said.
Further, the mathematical foundation for LEAN Works! — body mass index — is misguided, Howell contends, because BMI was never intended to be an assessment of an individual’s overall fitness. (BMI is a measure of relative weight based on a person’s mass and height).
“The fact that this program is based purely on a person’s weight with no consideration for their health is a problem,” Howell said.
Then, there is the question, she added, of how companies choose to incorporate LEAN Works! — and whether they punish employees who don’t participate or who don’t cut weight.
“What may be intended as a ‘voluntary’ program with incentives and rewards may be turned into a ‘mandatory’ program which, according to the (U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission), is possibly illegal,” Howell said.
“The belief that a person’s body size makes them less valuable than another can lead to discrimination in hiring and compensation practices for a whole segment of the population.”

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