EEOC Lawsuits Shine a Spotlight on Wellness Programs

wellnessThese days, many large employers have some form of wellness program, designed to help their employees address medical and lifestyle issues. Many employers reward employees who participate with discounts on insurance premiums or other incentives. Some “punish” employees who do not participate by, for example, adding surcharges to their premiums.

Two lawsuits filed recently by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have raised concerns about wellness programs as they relate to workers’ privacy, voluntary and mandatory participation requirements, and incentive rules under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) that forbids employers from requiring medical exams and making disability-related inquiries.

Last August, the EEOC made history when it filed its first-ever suit alleging that a wellness program violated the ADA. In the suit (EEOC v. Orion Energy Systems, Civil Action 1:14-cv-01019) the EEOC claims Orion Energy Systems, Inc. (a Wisconsin-based company) required employees to take medical exams and allegedly fired a worker when she objected to, and refused to participate in, a wellness program that included a health risk assessment, a medical history questionnaire, and activity on range-of-motion machines. Then, in a lawsuit filed last week against Flambeau, Inc., (also a Wisconsin-based company) (EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc., Civil Action No. 3:13-cv-00638), the EEOC alleged an employee’s insurance coverage was canceled because the company shifted the full cost of his health insurance premium to him after he failed to complete biometric testing and a questionnaire about health risks. You can read more about this suit in the EEOC’s Press Release.

Employers with wellness programs are advised to ensure their programs are voluntary and offer reasonable alternatives for people otherwise unable to participate.

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