The Scourge of Worker Wellness Programs

Lena Solow, writing for the New Republic:

When teachers and other school staff in West Virginia walked off the job in 2018, news coverage of the historic strike focused on bread-and-butter issues like their rising health-care premiums and low wages. There were horror stories of teachers working extra jobs and struggling to pay for emergency medical costs. But there were other galvanizing factors that, though less discussed, were no less galling—indignities that have become increasingly familiar to workers across the country.

As Brandon Wolford, a teacher from Mingo County, West Virginia, told a packed room at the LaborNotes conference in Chicago last year, he and his coworkers were moved to action when they were required to either pay a fee or participate in a workplace wellness program called “Healthy Tomorrows,” which penalized members for not scoring “acceptable” on a series of biometric measures. “The next thing you know we get a paper in the mail,” he said. “It says you have to go to the doctor by such and such a date. Your blood glucose levels must be at certain amounts, your waist size must be at certain amounts, and if it is not, you don’t meet all these stipulations, then you get a $500 penalty on your out-of-pocket deductible.”

Wellness programs seem like a good idea at first glance, but they benefit employees a lot less than employers, who have found them to be yet another way to control the lives of their employees outside of the workplace.