Height, weight and more: US company penalizes employees who don’t share private data

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Many employers look for ways to decrease their healthcare costs, but is charging employees who value their privacy the best approach?

US pharmacy chain CVS told company-insured workers they needed to have a doctor’s report of their weight, height, body fat, blood pressure and glucose and fasting lipid levels by May 1. Those who failed to comply would pay an extra $50 a month.

“This is an incredibly coercive and invasive thing to ask employees to do,” said Patient Privacy Rights founder Dr. Deborah Peel, adding that mounting health care costs have made these policies increasingly common. She linked the policy to employers trying to get rid of workers with health complications such as obesity and diabetes.

Rhode Island-based CVS, which has 200,000 employees, dubbed the request “a health screening and wellness review so that colleagues know their key health metrics in order to take action to improve their numbers, if necessary.”

CVS said it will pay for the weight, body fat and blood screenings.

But in exchange, workers must sign a form saying the screening is voluntary, and that the insurer can give test results to WebMD Health Services Group. The firm provides health management programs and benefit support to CVS. If workers don’t sign up, their medical coverage will jump by $50 a month.

Peel said the $600 noncompliance penalty shows the program isn’t voluntary. “How is it voluntary if you are a low- or medium- wage person?” she said.

But could the same policy be adopted in Canada? Enter at your own risk said Torys senior associate lawyer Jessica Bullock.

“I do not think this is a viable option for Canadian employers,” Bullock said. “In jurisdictions where there are privacy restrictions there would be serious legal concerns, but it also raises human rights issues. This could potentially lead to liability on the ground of discrimination on the basis of disability.”

Canadian employers do not have the right to ask for diagnosis information in the case of long or short term disability, so requesting sensitive health details pre-emptively is likely to cause serious legal problems.

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