Universities tend to lag behind their corporate "brothers" and "sisters" in the corporate world. Mostly it is a matter of re-framing governance cultures. But also it is that corporations tend to be governance and institution organization leaders--universities follow, and somewhat timidly. There is good reason--the university is a vastly different form of industry (in culture and organization and governance).
But not, it seems, when it comes to the structuring of benefits--especially wellness programs.
(Pix (c) Larry Catá Backer 2014)
I have been following the wellness wars at Penn State for its valuable lessons about the transformation of stakeholder and governance relations within the university, and for what it tells us about the changes in universities culture about its willingness to control the non-work lives of its employees in the name of revenue protection (e.g., The New Eugenics--The Private Sector, the University, and Corporate Health and Wellness Initiatives). As Penn State awaits the report of its Wellness program task force (e.g., The Wellness Wars Continue--A Task Force is Constituted and the Institutional Role of the Faculty is Reduced in Function), it might be well learn what one can when the wellness wars heat up in the corporate world.
What the corporate world is now beginning to experience is that when it crosses deeply held cultural lines--when it treats employees as property over which it can assert increasing control, when it seeks to control the non-working lives and choices of employees, for example--in ways that are alien to basic cultural and political (though perhaps not legal) premises on which this democratic Republic is founded, then there is likely to be a reaction. In the courts, usually, but not always.
And so we have this: Jillian Berman and Hunter Stuart, CVS Sued Over Controversial Wellness Program, Huff Post Business, March 20, 2014, parts of which follow. What is most interesting in the reporting is the way in which employees invoke moral and personal rights and employers counter with legal power. In this sort of contest, the employer may win in the short run, but their legally permissible actions will tend to undermine the system that makes their operation possible in the long run.