Many work wellness programs work like this – get regular checkups, hit various benchmarks of health, get money! It’s a way for business to lower their health care costs by rewarding people for making healthy choices.
Except that according to the ACLU, these bonuses are basically closed to people with disabilities. Moreover, there’s no real evidence that they make people healthier – instead, it’s a bonus for people who are already, luckily, healthy. As Susan Mizner of the ACLU said – voluntary wellness programs are neither.
Voluntary wellness programs at work can provide benefits to employees, but employers are increasingly adopting “voluntary” wellness programs that unfairly burden workers with disabilities the most of all. Worse, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission seems to think that’s okay, undermining core antidiscrimination protections it used to defend.
Imagine a woman living with rheumatoid arthritis and severe depression who, under doctor’s care, has finally returned to work. Her medications — a corticosteroid and an antidepressant — have triggered weight gain. Now imagine this woman facing her employer’s “wellness activities:” She is instructed to fill out a detailed questionnaire about her medical conditions; she is weighed and pronounced overweight; she is told to lose weight. Oh, and the program is voluntary — but if she doesn’t comply, she will have to pay hundreds of dollars more in annual health care premiums.
Comment period at the EEOC is now closed (I shared this widely on social media when it came out), but I wanted to circle back to it and just take a look at the logic. The pressure on the disabled body to be measured and assessed by normative rubrics forces various types of compliance.
So to review:
Voluntary wellness programs are not voluntary.
Voluntary wellness programs do not produce wellness.
Voluntary wellness programs discriminate against the disabled.
Finally – Voluntary wellness programs are a kind of corporate reification of the medical model of the body. Which isn’t surprising, because medical model has come to embody all kinds of neoliberal principles.