Hot Topics for 2019: #MeToo and Data Privacy

By Andie Burjek

Dec. 12, 2018

I’m looking forward to the holiday break after spending this month working on a 5,000-word article and finishing up my final assignments of 2018.

The end of the month for me will mean tons of family time with my parents, sisters and a very cute pit bull. I’m excited for simple pleasures like watching episodes of “Jeopardy!” by the fireplace, sipping coffee with my sisters and playing fetch with the puppy in my parents’ backyard.

I’ve also been thinking about the HR/business topics that have really stuck with me this past year. Looking toward 2019, I’ll be interested to see what changes happen in these environments.

The #MeToo Movement Moving Forward

A lot of us have been thinking a lot about sexual harassment this past year. It’s been hard not to. And for as much more work there is to do, it’s frustrating when people suggest that #MeToo has gone too far in “ruining” men’s lives or that men can’t even feel comfortable talking to/mentoring/hiring a woman anymore.

There’s one Quartz story I haven’t been able to shake these past few months about headhunters having trouble recruiting people in the era of #MeToo. An excerpt:

” … But in the last year, search firms also have had to consider host of other qualities about prospective candidates. Are they abusive to employees? Do they have a problem keeping their hands to themselves? Are they likely to engage in inappropriate behavior? Are they jerks? … ”

The fact that apparently headhunters did not have to consider if a candidate has been abusive or inappropriate to employees, while not surprising, is disgusting. There’s no reason that type of behavior shouldn’t be considered. In this environment, this is a great time to finally hold people accountable for their abusive/harassing actions instead of letting them hop from job to job to repeat the same patterns.

Hearing things like this makes me wonder about how many serial harassers can constantly get away with doing the same actions at different companies under the guise of getting a second chance.

I wonder what direction the #MeToo movement will go in next year. I hope it doesn’t lose steam when there’s still so much more that needs to change.

One thing I think to look out for is how much companies are actually trying to change versus just trying to do something that makes them look good. On the surface, certain developments may seem like wins, but it’s still necessary to dig deeper in the surface.

For example, Wired published an article in November about the limitations of revised sexual harassment policies. The gist of this story is that changes arrive too late for many women, as companies like Google, YouTube and Uber continue to try to force arbitration on ongoing claims that missed the cutoff for the new policy. Statistic: Forced arbitration is so common now that about half of all U.S. workers in the private sector (who don’t belong to unions) have waived their right to go to trial.

My major takeaway was that while progress is good, there’s a lot to be done here. Let’s not take every little win as the ultimate win or as a reason to stop caring about this topic. If we look deeper in ways companies are trying to improve, there could be limitations.

We should be able to give organizations a pat on the back for going in the right direction while also feeling free to give constructive criticism where there’s still work to be done. That’s not being ungrateful; that’s being logical.

Other 2018 articles on this topic:

Health Data and Data Privacy

Sometimes it seems like companies are giving fitness trackers away like candy. But what’s the actual cost of these supposedly free devices?

One annoyance I have in the employer health-care space is about the lack of transparency in certain areas, resulting in employees not getting all the necessary facts they need to make an informed decision. For example, life insurance companies can deny coverage based off an applicant’s genetic test results. Do employees know that when they take advantage of an employer’s genetic testing benefit?

Add this new one to the list, also relating to life insurance: John Hancock announced in September that it “will stop underwriting traditional life insurance and instead sell only interactive policies that track fitness and health data through wearable devices and smartphones.”

Excerpt from the Vox article: “The insurance companies can use this data to potentially weed out bad health-risk customers. A John Hancock representative told CNN it may use the data to try to sell customers other products like retirement plans. And it already charges less for people who are healthier. While the insurance market is heavily regulated, we’ve already seen what can happen when insurance premiums are left up to the whims of a free market … .”

None of this is to single out John Hancock, but it’s an example of one company’s practices.

A different article this year pointed out just how common fitness trackers have become for employers. Compared to 2 million workers in 2016, 6 million workers worldwide will receive fitness trackers through their employer by the end of 2018, reported NPR in November. Also, annual financial incentives for participating in voluntary wellness programs that may mean having to wear one of these trackers range from $100 to more than $2,000, depending on the company. That’s a lot of money for employees to give up by not participating.

An excerpt from the NPR article provides some insight into the potential meaning of too-large incentives:

[Andrew Boyd, an assistant professor of biometrics and health information at the University of Illinois at Chicago and the associate chief health information officer for innovation and research at the University of Illinois Hospital] is cautious but confident that some of the ongoing studies will show positive benefits for patient health. But he urges taking care before trading data for dollars. It’s important to know the type of information your tracker is revealing about your health, he says, and to know exactly how it will be used. Your incentives could offer a clue.

“If [your insurance company is] offering you two or three times the amount of money that every other insurance company’s offering you, there’s something else they value in the data that they’re giving you that cash for,” he says.

For instance, he says, if Congress ever repeals the Affordable Care Act, insurers could use the fitness data they’re collecting today to deny you coverage based on a medical condition that your tracker detects.

What do you think? What topics are you following closely now, and what are you curious to follow next year?

Andie Burjek is an associate editor at

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