Glimpses Of Huxley?   Leave a comment

Employers: Our New Benevolent Overlords

April 2, 2017

When it comes to conversations, we understand the general boundaries of topicality with our good friends, family members and even some business acquaintances. In general, within those groups almost any topic is allowed with the exception of religion and politics. These two are almost always catalysts that raise the volume and the emotions. In my family, religion was outstripped by politics as a tension-raiser, although I’ve learned to avoid both topics in any of the family’s social get-togethers. Without getting into labels, let’s just say that most of my family lives in rural Wisconsin, Indiana, or Alabama.

Navigating family get-togethers has been good preparation for participation in any conversation. It’s a useful practice for conversing with your boss or employee, client or vendor, representative in local, state, or federal government, or almost any other situation when humans need to speak with one another. (It may also have some application to talking to your dog. But not your cat. Cat’s really don’t give a shit. You just learn to not take their blasé attitude too personally.)

I assume you know or understand a lot of this but for anyone in doubt consider the following. In addition to my admonition about politics and religion, the website The Spruce has a list of conversation topics to avoid unless, as they write “you are with long-time friends who will love you anyway”. Their list: [1] Political Opinions: unless you are at a political rally or convention. [2] Lifestyle pet peeves: unless you are at a function that promotes a specific lifestyle. [3] Age issues: unless you are at an event celebrating an age group. [4] Weight issues: unless you are with a group of people whose goals are to gain or lose weight. [5] Personal finance: unless the other person is your financial advisor or banker. [6] Nitty gritty details about a health problem: unless you are with a group of health professionals who don’t get grossed out from talking about blood and other body fluids. When it comes to personal health, our parents often reassured us by Argue3saying “now, now, let me fix that owie”, or to dismiss us with the warm and fuzzy phrase “oh just suck it up”. Of course there’s a wide variance between those two extremes.

As adults, most of us have a natural reluctance or inhibition to go public and share personal information with people we don’t know, particularly when it’s about our health. (If in doubt, see “Nitty Gritty” above). After all, many feel while it’s tough enough sharing deep thoughts with those for whom we have great affection, it can be much harder with casual acquaintances or with people we’ve just met. In the job market it can be an uncomfortable moment when you’re asked—by a stranger—for personal information. I’m pleased to say I have no felony arrests or convictions, but please don’t ask me about my weight.

Consider the HR (Human Resources) person getting to know you. Poker fans know that it’s best to hold our cards close to our vest, not wanting to prematurely reveal whether we’re holding three aces or a pair of twos. Life, like poker, requires a certain measure of caution and openness; probably more of either than we’d care to admit. Memories of a number of job interviews I’ve had in my life come to mind. On the one hand I have been fortunate to have peers in business and industry pass my name along for job opportunities, which helped open a door here and there. On the other hand, I’ve never been the ‘talented prospect’ sought out by a search firm to fill a vacancy. That being said, I don’t ever remember opening the conversation with “Oh, did I tell you I’m 20 pounds overweight and have a mild case of asthma?” What if our meal preference is a large juicy cheeseburger, a side of French fries and a Coke? When HR asks about our favorite restaurant, we may demur and “recommend” that lovely natural foods cafe on Main Street, while our private thoughts drift to the aroma of a nice greasy cheeseburger. Until we’re completely comfortable with our new friend or our new or prospective employer, discretion is a good watchword, which brings me to some of our republican friends.

To my credit I had at actually heard of GINA, the 2008 Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act which clearly states that “it is illegal to discriminate against employees or applicants because of genetic information. . . . [And it] prohibits the use of genetic information in making employment decisions.” GINA applies to employment agencies, labor organizations and joint labor-management training and apprenticeship programs, etc. Companies are not allowed to request, require or purchase genetic information, and GINA strictly limits the disclosure of genetic information. But many—if not most—employers don’t like the idea of not being allowed to snoop into a prospective employee’s health history.

Enter the GOP, which all too often sees itself as the self-appointed protector of all things personal, often shouting some outrage about government overreach. The outrage is always there but becomes less credible when they begin mixing their religious beliefs or ‘free-market’ philosophy with health care. The GOP House members’ recent (March 24) unsuccessful effort to repeal the A C A (Obamacare) comes to mind. I had the distinct feeling that they were hoping to replace my healthcare with something that looked less like insurance, and more like the first-aid kit that came with my 1980 Toyota. Their effort shows that some people just want to know and control every little thing we do. And here we are reading about the “Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act” (PEWPA).

As with many bills these days, Congress tends to name it one thing so that it can accomplish something else. This bill is an end-run around GINA. Their desire (with an assist from corporate America) is to protect corporations from hiring anyone who—regardless of the microscopic chance­—might somehow, some day, become ill with a disease they inherited or for which they have become susceptible. These, in many cases, can be found in our gene pool. The New York Times reported that “House Republicans are proposing legislation aimed at making it easier for companies to gather genetic data from workers and their families, including their children, when they collect it as part of a voluntary wellness program.”

PEWPA, was introduced by Representative Virginia Foxx who is—wait for it, a Republican—from, that great state, wait for it, again—North Carolina—who also happens to be the chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. This bill flies in the face of the protections afforded by the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The PEWPA legislation would enable companies to coerce employees into participating in wellness programs that could require them to undergo genetic testing and provide genetic information about themselves and Spytheir families. Although discriminating against workers with genetic abnormalities would be prohibited, it would be very difficult to prove that discrimination had taken place. Your boss might cite some other rationale for hiring or firing. In recent years many have simply dismissed the possibility of ever being forced to hand our DNA over to anyone. In the age of Trump, however, it brings to mind Aldous Huxley envisioning a new, genetically matched universe. Test-tube babies produce near-perfect humans (humans?), becoming employees who wouldn’t burden our corporate health care plans by harboring the potential of genetically-passed diseases. 80 years ago in Brave New World Huxley reminded us: “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you mad.” Watching the GOP it’s possible Huxley‘s world may arrive sooner than we’d like. It may be time to get mad.

David Steffen

© 2017 David Steffen


Posted April 15, 2017 by Jazzdavid in Uncategorized

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