Workplace Wellness Programs Could Be Putting Your Data at Risk
Workplace Wellness Programs Could Be Putting Your Health Data at Risk
By Ifeoma Ajunwa
January 19, 2017
January tends to be when we (once again) start to pay attention to our waistlines and health. Some employees turn to their company’s wellness program to achieve their weight loss goals; many employers now provide these programs in an effort to help employees maintain their health and to reduce health care costs. But employees should consider the risks associated with wellness programs.
The workplace wellness program industry in the U.S. is estimated to be worth nearly $6 billion, with vendors selling companies either stand-alone programs or ones that are an optional part of health insurance. Although some studies have questioned the efficacy of wellness programs for reducing employers’ health care costs, and some researchers have accused wellness programs of actually hurting employees’ wellness by causing more stress, these programs continue to proliferate.
More than two-thirds of all U.S.-based employers offer some type of wellness program. A Kaiser Family Foundation report shows that 99% of firms with 200 or more workers offered at least one wellness program in 2013. Of these employers, 69% offered gym membership discounts or on-site gyms, 71% offered smoking cessation programs, and 58% offered weight loss programs. The majority of these firms also offered some financial incentive, such as the reduction of insurance premiums, for employees to participate. Another report found that in 2015 companies with more than 20,000 employees offered an average of $878 to encourage workers to participate, while companies with 5,000 to 20,000 workers offered $661 (up from $493 in 2014).
Without proper oversight, the health data collection that’s part of workplace wellness programs may put employees’ privacy, and potentially even employment, at risk.