More Employers Offering Perks/Penalties Based on Health

Elizabeth Renter
Activist Post

If you have a boss, and most U.S. adults do, you may be witnessing their growing concern about your health. But, it isn’t just a matter of monitoring your sick days; many employers are monitoring your health habits and conditions, going so far as to offer incentives for healthy workers. It’s not only in the interest of your health, but in the interest of their bottom line.

Many employers offer incentives for people who don’t smoke, for instance. Big box giant Wal-Mart charges smoking employees a surcharge of $10 per month. General Mills, on the other hand, rewards nonsmokers with $10 more per month. It’s estimated that 35 percent of companies offer some sort of incentive for nonsmoking workers or to help workers ditch the habit.

According to Reuters, smokers rack up 25 percent more in healthcare costs than nonsmokers, so companies’ concerns are based in more than just their care for your long life and wellbeing, they are based in financial costs and savings outlooks. This is just one example of how the effects of smoking go beyond health.

But for some, the incentives go beyond smoking as about 25 percent of employers are attaching them to such markers as a lower BMI or healthy blood pressure levels. While it would seem like these programs are in everyone’s best interests, there are privacy concerns here, not to mention the fact that your employer monitoring your health and your habits outside of work seems a little intrusive—a little like having a nosy parent.

Twenty percent of employers are attaching penalties for unhealthy practices. This means that what you do outside of work, totally unrelated to work, could ultimately affect your compensation or your job success rate. Sure, the company is interested in reducing costs and keeping workers at work rather than home sick—but is their prying into your personal habits justified?

Generally, HIPAA protects your health information from being shared. So employers usually use a self-reporting system or a third party to monitor these health issues. Also, you usually don’t have to participate in the programs or offered free health screenings that could lead to incentives or penalties.

JoAnn Volk with Georgetown University’s Health policy Institute says that workers can complain to the Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration or to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission if they question that their health information is being used in an unfair or even illegal manner.

This article first appeared at Natural Society, an excellent resource for health news and vaccine information.

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