Corporate wellness programs may be more sinister than you might think

Fitbit-powered corporate wellness programs are often seen as a benign, even fun, way to get workers exercising, but some worry they can lead to employer paternalism and discrimination, writes Christina Farr for Fast Company.

“My body is not public property, and it’s not someone else’s right to tell me how to live,” says Peggy Howell, a spokeswoman at the National Association to Advance Fat Acceptance.

In some cases, where employers share workers’ fitness achievements on public leaderboards, the programs can be demoralizing at best for those who have trouble keeping up for various health reasons. And even workers who are in shape may shy away from participating in programs when it’s not fully clear how and where companies will store the collected fitness data, which falls under fewer regulations than ordinary medical info, experts say.  

Privacy advocates worry that company wellness challenges could be used against employees who decline to participate—or, worse, simply fail to succeed—through penalties like higher premiums. Increasingly, employers have relied upon incentives to encourage participation in such programs, a practice that the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has recently sought to ensure is not carried out in a “coercive” manner.SM