Call it creepy or maybe a too-early April Fool’s joke. What else can be said about a Republican-backed measure, advancing in the House of Representatives, that puts Big Brother in charge— big time —in many workplaces via so-called wellness programs?
It’s called the “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act.” This Orwell-inspired bill, pushed by North Carolina Republican Congresswoman Virginia Foxx, gives employers scary control over their workers. Employees who participate in job-related health programs can be compelled to undergo genetic tests, and to provide the results to employers, albeit in supposedly anonymized fashion. If they fail to do so, they could face thousands of dollars in fines.
Disclosure of extremely personal, private medical information has been barred by the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, aka GINA. It arose partly after a 1998 court case, in which clerical and administrative workers were allowed to sue their employer for requiring testing for “highly private and sensitive medical genetic information such as syphilis, sickle cell trait, and pregnancy” without their consent or knowledge during a general employee health exam. GINA has been key in blocking employers from tapping into genetic and other confidential medical information as part of increasingly popular but largely ineffective workplace wellness programs. Because most Americans, more than 155 million of them, get their health insurance at work, many companies have launched and expanded such programs as way to reduce their coverage costs.