An increasingly large number of employers are using “employee wellness firms” to mine public health data and determine which workers are most likely to become pregnant.
Most employers cannot mine the public health data of employees, as it is against the law. However, they can contract wellness firms to fulfill these purposes. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), some personal health information is kept private. Insurance claims are not protected by HIPAA, meaning they can be used by these wellness companies and provided to employers.
Wellness firms do not disclose individual health information to companies. For example, data released to employers might say “20 percent of female workers are attempting to conceive.”
That doesn’t sound so bad, right? It’s not like individual workers can be affected. Wrong. Employers could theoretically use this data to make hiring decisions even without information on individual workers. If data from a wellness firm suggests 35 percent of female workers are trying to have children, company executives could fire more women and focus on hiring more men, out of fear too many female employees will take maternity leave.
Why Workplace Discrimination Laws Must Be Updated
When employers hire wellness firms to collect data on groups of employees, they are operating in an unregulated legal gray area. The only reason no regulations or laws exist against employee data mining is because the concept is new. Pregnant women are not the only workers affected by these types of assessments. Elderly employees could also be affected.
Worker protections must be updated for the digital age. We live in a time where every aspect of our society is connected, even our health insurance information. If this information can be collected by the highest bidder, it could endanger the rights of workers across the country.