First corporations wanted to be treated like people, so they could give more money to influence elections.
Now they want your blood.
Honeywell International, founded in Minnesota, recently implemented a plan to reduce health care costs and promote healthy living for employees.
Sounds good so far.
But the company went a step further by penalizing workers financially if they and their spouses refused to agree to a biometric testing.
That's a harmless enough sounding concept. But what it means is you let medical providers for the company draw blood to check for health problems, such as diabetes. It means they would also would test you, and your spouse, for blood pressure, HDL, total cholesterol and glucose.
Oh, and they'd need your height and weight, and that of your spouse. And while they're at it, let's run a tape measure around your waistline to see how you are doing with that diet.
Failure to agree to the tests brings a hefty price, up to $4,000 per family in penalties and lost company contributions.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission said this goes too far. The agency filed suit in federal court in Minneapolis last week in behalf of two Minnesota employees, saying the health screening and penalties violate the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.
The EEOC said refusing Honeywell's program means a loss of $1,500 in company contributions to health savings accounts, a $500 medical plan surcharge, a $1,000 tobacco surcharge and a $1,000 spousal tobacco surcharge.
The EEOC says that such harsh financial repercussions virtually force employees to bow to the company's edict, and thus it is not really voluntary.
In fairness, Honeywell is trying to get employees to be healthier while saving money on medical care. It said the EEOC was "woefully out of step with the health care marketplace."
I'd say Honeywell was woefully out of step with keeping out of people's business when they are off the job.
I'm all for "incentives" that get workers healthier: discounted gym memberships, weight loss groups, healthy choices in cafeterias, discounts for nonsmokers.
But in this case they have gone beyond "incentives" to punishment for personal choices that may or may not be affecting workers' health.
They've gone from the carrot to the stick.
If you were bothered when New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg tried to ban giant sodas because you thought it was government overreach, you should be bothered by this. Corporations as the new nanny state.
It's ludicrous to think a man can be penalized by his employer because his wife won't comply with a company rule. She might be a marathon runner, for all they know, who simply finds the company's tests intrusive and insulting.
Honeywell said in a statement that the medical details "are strictly confidential and not shared with the Company."
Then what are they for?
According to the lawsuit, "Honeywell initially told its employees that it would use the results of the biometric tests to impose goals on the employees where they would be required to reduce their risk factors."
Honeywell has since said it has delayed this part of the program, and has not decided whether it will revisit the use of biometrics to set goals.
In other words: Hit the treadmill or else.
Rich Neumeister, a privacy advocate, has worked on legislation to protect employees from employer oversight while off the job.
"Minnesota has a strong history of statutes to keep the employer … from getting into your private business,'' Neumeister said. "What I do after hours or what I eat or drink is not their concern."
The company said its health plan complies with — or even results from — the Affordable Care Act. The federal law does promote employer incentives for preventive care, that's true.
But think about it: One of the main selling points of the ACA was to prevent insurance companies from denying or punishing customers for prior health issues. Honeywell's new policy in practice does exactly that.
Chuck Samuelson, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Minnesota, said he was "very surprised and a little bit disturbed" by Honeywell's plan. It's not a civil rights issue, but rather an employee rights issue.
"This is a way to count their pennies," said Samuelson. "It's about saving money."
Samuelson said companies often initiate health plans to save money, but then still insist on such things as heavy overtime, "which is profoundly unhealthy," he said.
My dad worked for Honeywell, assembling thermostats and devices for their defense business. He gave them 30 years of his sweat, but I'm pretty sure he would never give them his blood.