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The State of Your Health: Is It Your Employer’s Business?

Today at the Chamber of Commerce luncheon, we heard a panel discussion on employee wellness programs, presented by folks who have a vested interest therein: mostly directors of such projects.

It was interesting, particularly as an effort to persuade corporate leadership that employees’ health bears, in ways obvious and subtle, on the bottom line. And the discussion pushed one of my buttons.

Among the strategies the panel presented is a program in which workers are coaxed, by way of a $15/month bonus added to the paycheck, into submitting to tests to determine whether they’ve been smoking tobacco. There are similar thrusts in these programs having to do with diabetes prevention and control, obesity control, and the like. But this one exemplifies most perfectly, to my mind, what is wrong with such Big Mommy schemes. Videlicet:

What you choose to do about your health maintenance is none of your employer’s business.

Your health care is between you and your doctor, not between you and your doctor and your department manager and HR.

While I personally do not smoke, chew, or snort tobacco — and no offense, dear nicotine-loving friends, but I fear people who do are a little stupid — the stuff is a legal product available freely all over the country. There’s no law against smoking tobacco. And your employer has absolutely no business telling you that you can’t engage in a lawful activity on your own time, outside of the plant.

And your employer has even less business (we’re in the negative numbers now!) demanding that you submit to a test to confirm your word that you do not smoke. It’s an unwarranted and unacceptable intrusion into your private life.

Whence this anxiety to insert a whole new level of nosiness into our private lives?

The almighty dollar, that’s whence. The hype generated around the so-called “obesity epidemic,” which was recognized as hooey when it first arose and which some inquiring minds still question, represents a vast money-making opportunity. As in billions and trillions of dollars. The very folks who, over today’s lunch, regaled us with the glories of in-house “wellness” programs themselves stand to profit. Whether they work as wage slaves for companies that institute the programs or whether they own businesses contracting to companies to run such programs, they’ll profit.

If we’re all being bribed — or ordered — to take tobacco tests, what will be next?

Alcohol use is one hell of a lot more detrimental to productivity than puffing tobacco on your own time. It really would make more sense to test people, regularly, to determine how many cocktails or glasses of wine they had with dinner the night before.

Sugar: Exceptionally bad for you. Will we all be required to take blood glucose tests on Monday before we sit down to work?

Salt: Worse yet! You don’t even have to be fat for salt to drive up your blood pressure. How’s about we add a blood sodium level while we’re drawing blood for those glucose tests? No more hot dogs and potato chips at those Sunday afternoon football games for you, pal!

Folks. We have got to get a grip on this kind or exploitation. And somehow, someday Americans really need to come back to a basic fact of pre-Facebook, pre-Google, pre-Big Brother life: what’s your business is your business. And no one has any right to demand to poke their corporate nose into it.

10 thoughts on “The State of Your Health: Is It Your Employer’s Business?”

  1. I don’t smoke so when we had to take a nicotine test during our recent conversion to insourced employees, it didn’t bother me, but I know it caused a stir elsewhere. I think why smoking gets the target is for a couple of reasons. First, no level of smoking is OK, whereas with sugar, salt, and alcohol, by and large it’s OK up to a point (and maybe even slightly beneficial for the first so-much), so it makes it a little more black and white. Second, it’s low hanging fruit. Maybe the other items you mentioned will come into play at some point, but those tests are going to be a lot more difficult and a lot harder to prove risk, where again, because smoking is pretty black and white in terms of increased health risk, it makes it the easier target.

    • Money Beagle- so you don’t smoke and think from your lofty heights that it is ok to smash someone else’s privacy. Guess what – is there diabetes in your family history? High blood pressure? Anyone have alcoholism? Depression? Sorry, dearie, your family history is now public knowledge and guess what – there are studies that show there are proper levels for all of the substances you mention. No where do “they” say how large a study must be to be used to determine “safe” levels for any substance. You have alcoholism in the family – no more Nyquil for you let alone a cocktail in the evening, no salt if you have family with high blood pressure and all of the substances you mentioned have been noted in various studies as having a detrimental effect on depression.
      It is people like you, who think there will be no ” Kristallnacht” for you and yours.
      What is your definition of freedom?

    • snowymn,

      I never sat high on a perch nor did I ever even opine whether I even felt that the practice was right or wrong. If you take the time to objectively (and this is the key) read what I said, it was pointing out my opinion on why this happens. I guess that I would have had to say ‘Oh, but this is COMPLETELY wrong’ in order for my comment to pass your test, but my read on your response is that even a neutral comment (which mine squarely falls into) is seen as anti-whatever-it-is-you-believe-in. And that’s too bad.

      Again, to summarize my point, I was pointing out that there is study after study that says ‘Even one cigarette can cause negative effects’ which I take as the rationale for these types of policy. Again, I am not judging, but I have a feeling that this element will once more be lost.

    • @ Money Beagle in response to snowymn:

      Your comment doesn’t seem judgmental. But the thought that crosses my mind is one that echoes the civil libertarian’s: when one person’s civil liberties are taken away, yours may be next.

      And I do think we have a right to our privacy. In the digital age, we’ve blithely ceded that right, in scores (possibly hundreds) of ways…so much so that today when you say to someone that you object to X or Y new Google or Facebook or other corporate intrusion, the person will just shrug and say “So what? The barn door is open and it’s all out there anyway.”

      That may be so, but it doesn’t make the practice right nor does it mean we should not resist further intrusiveness.

      As a practical matter, you could argue that even one jigger of whiskey or one toke of weed is bad for you, and therefore your employer has a right to test you. I’m not convinced that the positive evil of tobacco is a line that won’t shift into other realms.

      Nor am I convinced that one’s use of tobacco, as destructive as the product certainly is, should be any of one’s employer’s business, as long as the use does not take place on the employer’s time or on her property. What we do in our private lives is none of our employer’s business. We get to HAVE a private life!

  2. Hmmmm….$15 a month to agree to company over-sight into your behavior….50 cents a day….Hopefully I never need 50 cents that bad. I don’t smoke…drink ….or stay out late at night but enjoy having the right to do so if I wish. Giving that right up is certainly worth more than 50 cents….

  3. I agree with you – and I don’t think it’s the business of federal, state, or local government, either.

    • True. But I’ve never been asked by a government agency whether I smoke, nor has a government agency ever demanded that I prove it. Have you?

  4. I’ve been asked by my doctor, and I’m afraid that all my information is going into a database that will be accessible by HHS bureaucrats, if not immediately, eventually.

    • Wouldn’t be surprised. Everything is now supposed to be digitized, meaning, in most cases, your doc spends more time staring at a computer screen than talking to you. Or listening to you…something many of them had a problem with to start with — now “listening” to a patient will be a thing of the past! 😀

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