Genetic Testing Raises Employee Hackles

Posted April 7, 2017 by Mary McGinley

There’s a battle heating up in the workplace and it’s over healthcare and privacy matters regarding employee wellness programs within companies.

In a recent article that appeared at by Andie Birjek, the latest contention comes over HR 1313, otherwise known as the Preserving Employee Wellness Program Act. It is aimed at helping employers continue to offer workers and their families advantages through employee wellness programs. This bill, however well-intentioned, seems to fly in the face of HIPPA laws that ensure the privacy of workers.  Some workers feel that they are being penalized for choosing not to participate.

Those within the government insist that employee wellness programs have always been completely voluntary as outlined under the Affordable Care Act or ACA.   With the passage of H.R. 1313 they remain so, but according to House Republicans, this now offers a way for employees to further help get their premium costs reduced if they do choose to participate.   The resolution, contrary to what naysayers insist does not allow employers to force their worker to submit to genetic testing.

One worker doesn’t see it quite that way. Kurt Schanaman, a freelance technical writer and roofing supply specialist from Kurt Gering, Nebraska said that though not technically being forced, workers can be made to feel they are being coerced by their employers.  His company began informing him that he must choose to submit to a health risk assessment survey and submit to an annual biometric physical in order to qualify for the lowest possible health insurance premium for the following year. Included in the information packet he was given was a form to sign that allowed his health practitioner to share with an unnamed third party the results of this survey.  

Schanaman determined that he would be penalized by having to pay 30 percent more for his family’s healthcare costs for refusing to sign and likened it to a carrot and stick approach.   To him and to many others, while most HR departments may not realize it, this information, particularly health and genetic information should be considered private and protected under the Constitution. What’s more, in this era where hacking and theft of personal information is becoming ever more common, limiting access to health and genetic information is even more important.  Companies and HR departments may not exploit this information, but there are those in the world who would. And once someone has signed that paper agreeing to submit to such testing, that lowering of privacy safeguards that ensure patient privacy, they can never go back.

While workplace wellness programs can help employees get and stay healthy, there are concerns regarding legislation such as H.R. 1313.   HR professionals need to understand worker fears and respect their concerns regarding their personal privacy.

At EinsteinHR, we understand that workers need to feel that not only their health and wellbeing is being looked after but their personal privacy too.  Einstein can help you in determining what wellness program is right for you and your workers. We offer a full range of HR management services that gives peace of mind to your workers and lets you continue to grow your business. To find out more, please contact us today at 888-981-3622 (emc2) for a consultation.