Focus: Workplace wellness programs, health tracking and privacy

On Behalf of | May 31, 2016 | Employment Litigation |

It’s a win-win scenario, right? That fitness tracking apparatus that you agreed to wear on your wrist at the request of your employer is proving to be a real ally in helping you understand relevant health-related numbers.

Truly, of course, not that many workers are yet strapping on those little mobile tech tools, but enough of them are — with progressively more being asked to — to warrant a few questions concerning their use.

Here’s a fundamental query: Who’s seeing the data?

That’s clearly a fair question, given that much of what pops out on a wearable device easily qualifies for designation as confidential and proprietary information.

And here’s another query: Why are some workers being asked by company principals to wear so-called “fitness trackers” and other info-gathering apparatuses?

As noted by one doctor/ privacy advocate, there is a growing trend pursuant to which employees are provided with such devices to track their participation in company wellness programs. Captured data — and, these days, increasingly more broad-ranging and varied information — is used by employers to foster workers’ competition in health initiatives and to establish benchmarks for incentives.

As Dr. Deborah C. Peel — described recently in a media piece as “an expert and privacy warrior to stop patients from being harmed” — notes, though, collected data runs the risk of being misused by employers and their insurers. With such a high national concern on health care costs and an obvious strategy among employers to transfer those costs to workers, data that can be tracked through wearable devices could easily be used in a manner detrimental to workers.

Peel says it is incumbent upon workers to know the privacy considerations applicable to wearable devices. Are there limits? Are they clear? Can an employer farm out info to an insurance company? Might a worker suffer an adverse effect — say an increased health coverage premium or a denial of coverage — resulting from third-party receipt of personal medical information?  Employers should know those answers as well and take care not to misuse or abuse the information they gather.

Such questions and concerns are likely to become progressively more pronounced, with privacy considerations looming ever larger in worker/employer relationships.

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