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Why Your Employer May Know About Your Pregnancy Before You Do

Is your company using big data to find out if you're pregnant or TTC?

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The year 2016 is starting to feel a little like 1984 when you consider some employers may be able to track employees' medical and pharmacy claims as well as their search engine queries to determine if a pregnancy is on the horizon. Yes, well before you are ready to share the big news...or are even expecting!

According to Time.com, a health care analytics company like Castlight Health has the ability to gather workers' medical data and determine many things about them, from whether or not they have diabetes, to if they are TTC, or need a particular surgery. So for instance, Castlight can report to a company how many of their female employees are pregnant or trying to have a baby. While their names won't be disclosed, and any group less than 40 is not reported to protect anonymity, there's no guarantee an employer wouldn't be able to figure it out.

This is all perfectly legal, in case you were wondering (as I was). However, whether it's ethical is in question.

James Hodge, a professor of public health law and ethics at the Arizona State University Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law provides a specific example of how an employer could use this information to make unethical decisions: "If [an employer] originally thought that 15 percent of the women in its employee base may become pregnant, but data shows it's closer to 30 percent, that could lead an employer to say we cannot hire as many female employees this year because we can't afford them being out for family leave."

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Frightening, isn't it? Even worse: "There is almost no law that controls what data these big data companies can access," Nicolas Terry, a professor at the Indiana University Robert H. McKinney School of Law, told Time.com. "There isn't much law controlling what they can do with it." Even the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA) doesn't always protect search queries and insurance claims!

It's worth noting a company like Castlight can only collect data from people who opt in to its services. But how many of us really read all that fine print? And as Hodge says, "You only need a random sampling and you can then extrapolate meaningful and actionable data."

The takeaway? Read what you sign.

Melissa Willets is a writer/blogger and a mom. Follow her on Twitter (@Spitupnsuburbs), where she chronicles her love of exercising and drinking coffee, but never simultaneously.