EEOC Files First Lawsuit Involving “Employer Wellness Programs”

Employers have a number of incentives to impose wellness programs. Some business owners and corporate boards argue that they can lower healthcare costs, boost morale, and improve productivity. Despite the benefits of these programs, employer wellness incentives have been criticized for imposing invasive healthcare tracking policies and charging employees extra when they don’t meet certain standards. Nearly half of large companies have wellness programs, but many are under scrutiny. According to Kaiser Health, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission brought a lawsuit on behalf of an employee who was punished and fired for refusing to participate in a company wellness program.

burger-1097101-mThe lawsuit filed in federal court was the first to challenge a wellness program under the Americans with Disabilities Act. While many Americans approve of programs that promote healthy behavior, most would also agree that it is inappropriate for companies to force those who do not participate to pay higher premiums. Our Orange County employment law and discrimination attorneys are dedicated to protecting the rights of employees throughout Southern California. We take on cases involving discrimination and retaliation and can effectively protect the rights of employees who have suffered disability discrimination or adverse consequences related to wellness program refusal.

Under the Affordable Care Act, employers can reward or penalize employees who don’t meet specific health goals, including weight loss or reducing high blood pressure. According to federal standards, the standards must also provide a reasonable, alternative standard that allow workers to qualify even if they don’t meet specific outcome. Employers have complained that this loophole makes programs subject to abuse and are unfair to those employees who do meet standards.
Employers do have an incentive to curb unhealthy behaviors such as smoking before they result in disease or expensive treatments—but, when is an employer crossing the line? Does an employer have the right to access medical records, goad employees into changing behaviors, even charge the extra if they refuse? As medical tests and records find their way in the workplace, companies must be wary of the extra costs of monitoring, as well as the potential legal liabilities of retaliation or discrimination.

As business chief executive officers are calling for more flexibility with wellness programs, employee advocates are not so sure. Current rules allow employers to offset premiums with a paycheck if they participate in a screening of blood pressure and cholesterol levels. These same employees can get additional bonuses if they maintain results; however federal requirements state that employees should also be able to get the bonus if their screenings do not improve, so long as they participate in other options. These regulations were released in 2013 to help ensure that the wellness program requirements are not overly burdensome or discriminating. If you believe you have suffered discrimination because of a health condition, disability, or for retaliation in refusing a wellness program, you may have a legal cause of action. An experienced attorney can review your case, identify your options, and help you protect your rights to compensation.

Employment lawsuits can be filed with assistance from the Nassiri Law Group, practicing in Los Angeles, Riverside, and Orange County. Call 714-937-2020.

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