Although some critics have raised concerns about privacy, others say the rise in wearable devices that monitor employees’ health can provide a wealth of health intelligence for employers and insurance companies, as well as keep employees motivated to achieve their own health and fitness goals. Data collected by these devices, however, are not covered by federal rules that protect health records from disclosure, and these devices are collecting data not only on how many steps employees walk, but also how long they sit, their 24/7 heart rate and their sleep duration and quality. An employee who barely moves from their desk, for instance, could be targeted by the call center of the wearable or a notification from their health insurer or boss about increasing their movement. Employees in these types of programs voluntarily sign up for digital health monitoring in return for cash, reduced premiums or reimbursements for co-payments and deductibles. “Sustained behavior change is really the focus,” says Adam Pellegrini, senior vice president of Fitbit Health Solutions. “Through the system, we can actually see who is not hitting their goals, who is not adhering to that action plan.” But privacy and workforce specialists warn the data could be abused to favor the healthiest employees while punishing or stigmatizing those who are less healthy, or who show signs of unhealthy behavior such as heavy drinking or drug use. “The more that employers know about their employees’ lives, especially outside the workplace, off-duty hours, the more potential control or effects they have on their lives in the first place,” says Lee Tien, a senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a nonprofit organization that advocates for consumer privacy. “It’s quite possible, there will be effects on whether you are retained, promoted, demoted – who is first to be laid off.”
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