We’re used to a certain amount of surveillance from our employers at this point. Most of us know that we should write anything in an email that we wouldn’t hang above our desks, and are resigned to the fact that our bosses can see what we look at online or what we say over instant messenger. But should our company know how much we weigh?
Some organizations say yes. The idea, of course, is that tracking employee health reduces insurance and health care costs, to the benefit of both employer and employee. And as long as it’s voluntary — workers signing up for weight-loss or fitness clubs — there’s no problem. The trouble starts when companies begin tracking health care information, including weight, without their workers’ knowledge or consent.
Sound like something out of George Orwell? It’s not. A recent article in the Wall Street Journal’s Marketwatch reported that:
“Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina recently began buying spending data on more than 3 million people in its employer group plans. If someone, say, purchases plus-size clothing, the health plan could flag him for potential obesity — and then call or send mailings offering weight-loss solutions.”
Never mind the fact that the correlation between size and health is far from clear. Even if we accept that reducing weight improves health, is it any business of our employers’ what size pants we wear?
Then there’s the potential for discrimination against overweight applicants for jobs. So far, the focus seems to be on improving the health of current employees, but that could change. Dr. Deborah Peel, founder of Patient Privacy Rights tells Marketwatch, “It’s a slippery-slope deal.”
And even if we trust our employers never to use this kind of information against us, there’s still something kind of unsettling about having major corporations know so much about our private lives. At the very least, it has the potential to reduce living, breathing people to a collection of numbers and statistics.
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