Penn State backs off of its biometric screening policy for employees

Written by: Donald Heller

Primary Source: The Dean’s Blog


Penn State University announced yesterday that it was putting on hold its policy that required employees to undergo biometric screenings and post the results on the third party website WebMD, or face a $100 monthly surcharge on their health insurance premiums.

When I posted about the Penn State policy last month, I described how employees there had protested a  policy they saw as invasive to their privacy.  Evidently these protests were effective, as in announcing the temporary reversal of the policy, the university acknowledge its employees discomfort:

“We have decided to suspend the $100 per month surcharge so that people who are uncomfortable with any aspect of the survey will not feel as if they are being penalized,” [University President Rod] Erickson said. “There is still a tremendous financial challenge that we must address in the coming year and beyond, but we also need to acknowledge the concerns of employees and seek their advice on how to overcome these fiscal roadblocks and still provide quality health care.”

“What we are hearing is that there has not been enough time to discuss and digest this initiative,” Erickson explained. “It’s clear that the interactions we have had up to this point have not been sufficient and this is a genuine attempt on our part to ensure appropriate input and consultation has been sought from members of our faculty and staff.”

This language indicates the university learned a lesson about involving employees in discussions about policies like these before they are implemented.  If it had, there likely would not have been the fallout that brought bad publicity to the university through stories in many national media, including NPR, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal.

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Donald Heller
Donald E. Heller is Dean of the College of Education and a professor in the Department of Educational Administration at Michigan State University. Prior to his appointment in January, 2012, he was Director of the Center for the Study of Higher Education and professor of education and senior scientist at The Pennsylvania State University. He also has held a faculty appointment at the University of Michigan. His teaching and research is in the areas of educational economics, public policy, and finance, with a primary focus on issues of college access and choice for low-income and minority students. He has consulted on higher education policy issues with university systems and policymaking organizations in California, Colorado, Kansas, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, Tennessee, Washington, Washington DC, and West Virginia, and has testified in front of Congressional committees, state legislatures, and in federal court cases as an expert witness. Before his academic career, he spent a decade as an information technology manager at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
Donald Heller

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