Working Well

This Week in Controversial Workplace Benefits

Employers get under employees’ skin; a paid leave policy shouldn’t have to be complex; and don’t dismiss telemedicine just yet.

Writing about benefits can get dry sometimes.

“Employees like health care,” some survey found. OK, cool. I agree.

Then there’s a week where you come across a lot wild, timely, meaty stories that bring up a lot of questions and frustration. And this isn’t even including everything that’s happened in the U.S. health care space.

I’ve Got You Under My Skin: The most controversial benefits story I’ve seen this past week is regarding a Wisconsin-based tech company that is inserting microchips in 50 of its employees’ fingers. Employees, who signed up for this voluntarily, can use them to get in the building and pay for food at the cafeteria. Some people are excited about this.

Then there’s the more skeptical side (also the side I happen to fall on). This video sums up the concerns pretty succinctly. It could be a slippery slope where this technology “goes from being voluntary to involuntary and then it’s out of your hands.” Also, the video cautions employees to be careful about the agreements they have with employers, since there are a lot of questions out there about what happens with this data and how future companies can use it.


A Wisconsin-based tech company is inserting microchips in 50 of its employees’ fingers — voluntarily, of course.

If wearables in the workplace of any kind — whether they’re strapped around your wrist or inserted in your finger — are really the future, then not setting boundaries present day makes no sense. Yes, employees can be cavalier about the data privacy aspect of this all now. But later? There are future implications.

[Also read: “Would Your Employer Microchip You?”]

Don’t Overthink It: Another controversial but often talked-about benefits topic nowadays is paid family leave in the United States. From what I’ve seen and read, the controversy isn’t around whether companies should or shouldn’t offer it. Heck, both presidential candidates in the recent election talked about expanding paid leave, and that might have been the only thing they agreed on in a campaign that felt like it lasted years. The controversy has been more around how much leave and who should be eligible. Birth mothers? Fathers? Single parents? Only married parents? Adoptive parents?

A lot of this felt ridiculous as somebody who grew up the time I did. I can’t fathom why companies wouldn’t offer paid family leave to fathers or single mothers or adoptive parents. It’s 2017. The “traditional family” model isn’t reality for a lot of people anymore, nor should it be.

The Harvard Business Review can explain this better than me. It just released a report that provided some very valuable information on this topic. It advocates for a simple paid leave policy. According to the report, “When it comes to new parents, you need just two simple categories: disability leave for women who are physically unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth or related conditions, and parental leave that’s equally available to all employees, regardless of gender or caregiver status.”

Makes sense. Especially in today’s workplace where, as this report points out, even policies that have primary and secondary caregiver plans can be flawed. It mentions one company whose policy expressly states that the pregnant woman is assumed to be the primary caregiver. If the point of the primary/secondary differentiation is to allow the mother and father to decide who will have the primary role on their own terms, how can policies like that exist? This is why is makes more sense to have a simple, equal parental leave applicable to all employees.

[Also read: “Dad Friendly Work Policies Begin Growing Up”]

The Doctor Won’t See You Now: Telemedicine, also called telehealth, is the remote diagnosis and treatment of patients through technology. It’s something that more and more companies are adapting, but that doesn’t mean employees are utilizing it. Researching the topic for a larger story in Workforce’s September/October print issue, I came across a lot of the benefits, limitations and challenges of telemedicine. Telemedicine has a lot of potential, but it’s still relatively new, at least on a mainstream scale. It began in the late 1960s within smaller, niche populations. But, in the employer market, we’ve seen interest jump an impressive level just in the past five years.

As one of my editors noted, a big criticism is that when a patient contacts a doctor via telemedicine, the doctor may just tell them to go to the ER anyway in order to protect themselves in case of a wrong diagnosis.

From what I’ve read and who I’ve spoken to, that’s not really the case. For common or seasonal diagnoses like a cold or the flu, doctors can easily diagnose it over the phone. That’s the whole point, to discourage patients from going to the ER when they don’t need to and to offer medical care with more convenience and less cost.

I recently came across a survey that found that unnecessary ER trips was especially prevalent for people in their 20’s. They visit ER doctors more than any other type of doctor for general health concerns that could be easily diagnosed and treated more affordably by a primary care physician.

So, yes, in some cases telemedicine doctors may tell patients to go to the ER anyway. But I’m optimistic. If so many people are using the ER and racking up unnecessary medical costs now, why not consider an option that could offset that?

Andie Burjek is a Workforce associate editorComment below or email editors@workforce.com. Follow Workforce on Twitter at @workforcenews.