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Did UnitedHealth Group cross a line by asking its employees to lobby against health care reform?

Minneapolis-based UnitedHealth Group is taking some heat for providing form letters to its 75,000 U.S. employees opposing aspects of the health care reform bill working its way through Congress.  The company also urged employees to write letters to local newspapers and then share those letters with the company’s lobbying arm.

One of the form letters provided by UHG makes the controversial claim that  ”government-run health care will result in millions of Americans not being able to keep their current coverage and will lead to unintended consequences of higher premiums and less choice.”

A few commentators have suggested that UHG crossed a line: “Writing to employees on where they stand is probably common historically and part of corporate culture,” said Judy Dugan, research director at Consumer Watchdog. “Going so far as to send out form letters is crossing a line in terms of putting political pressure on your employees.” UnitedHealth has emphasized that participation is voluntary.

From a legal point of view,  UHG is certainly free to ask its employees to support the company’s position on proposed legislation as  employees of private employers have no first amendment right of free speech at work.  In most states, in fact, UHG could even fire those employees who refused to do so.  (New York is one of the few states that protects employees who express political positions outside of work.)  I’m not sure, however, that UHG wants to run the risk of alienating those employees who oppose the company’s position and support a public option.


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