Weight Bias in the Workplace: CVS Employees Threatened to Reveal Weight or Pay Penalty
CVS Caremark’s new employee health policy requires participants to provide their weight, body fat, and glucose levels…or pay the penalty of $50 per month. This coercive strategy forces employees to pay a fee in order to maintain health-related privacy.
The weight centered bias in this plan is clear. “Going forward, you’ll be expected not just to know your numbers – but also to take action to manage them,” the CVS policy states. CVS may have intentions to create a healthier workplace; however, this intimidating method seems to emphasize weight (rather than health). With the spotlight on weight and body fat, this strategy has the potential to cause additional stress and anxiety in the workplace, as well as encourage unhealthy weight loss and dieting.
The pressure to comply is powerful. A CVS Spokesman told NBC News that although there are no penalties based on the results of the screenings, choosing not to provide this information will result in a $600 annual surcharge. Despite the indication that this program is voluntary, smokers are warned, “You must either be tobacco-free by May 1, 2014, or participate in the WebMD tobacco cessation program.”
These invasive requirements are cause for concern. Many CVS employees are declining to seek treatment for a range of health issues, for fear that this information will not be kept private. So while CVS’s new policy asserts to promote wellness, the implications are compelling employees to refuse medical treatment, compromising their wellness.
How much further are employers willing to go in order to cut their costs? The boundaries are becoming increasingly blurred as the line between privacy and financial bottom-line overlaps. An employer demanding personal health information is a potentially very slippery slope of the invasion of privacy. Furthermore, these demands are not singular. In addition to CVS, many other employers are incorporating these philosophies into their insurance policies; encouraging rewards for those who participate in weight loss programs, dieting, and exercise.
Whole Foods developed something known as the “Whole Foods Market experiment,” or “Health Starts Here.” Employers are introduced to the Four Pillars of Healthy Eating (whole foods, plant-strong foods, healthy fats and nutrient-dense foods), as well as an introduction to the 28-Day Challenge, which encourages turning the program’s suggestions into habits. What incentive do employers have to endorse dieting and weight loss programs? “Healthy people cost less,” stated Adam Reiser, the executive director of a company that’s been helping Whole Foods administer its program (http://supermarketnews.com/health-amp-wellness/diet-plan-helps-whole-foods-employees).
Beyond insurance, WFM places a huge emphasis on improving health and well-being. This innovative program, based on each team member’s degree of wellness, offers additional store discounts beyond the standard 20% that all team members receive. The extra discount is based on meeting certain biometric criteria for cholesterol levels, body mass index, height-to-waist ratio, and blood pressure, along with being nicotine free. There are four additional levels of discounts based on the team member’s score, from 22% to 30% (http://blogs.hbr.org/cs/2013/01/how_whole_foods_market_innovat.html).
This extrinsic motivation presented by employers has the potential to lead to short-term superficial effects. These types of ‘wellness programs’ raise concerns of validity. Will these “wellness” practices in the workplace create a foundation that will lead to requiring employees to report other (or all!) medical and mental health conditions? We feel that health-related issues and diagnosis are best left between a patient and their physician, not between employer and employee.