Employee wellness programs are popular among employers right now, as a way to save money on their health insurance costs. Most wellness programs encourage healthy employee habits. They typically perform health assessments on employees, and may include biometric screenings, cholesterol and blood pressure tests, and weigh-ins. Those employees who participate are often rewarded with a discount on their health insurance premiums.
However, some employees are now reporting that if they refuse to participate in the workplace wellness program, they are being denied insurance through their employer entirely, and must either purchase it through COBRA or on a government-run exchange. Those employees feel they are being discriminated against for refusing to participate in a wellness program. In one case, the federal government argued in court that an employer’s wellness program did not comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prevents companies from requiring employees to take medical exams or provide personal health information.
Unfortunately for those employees, courts have ruled that it is legal for companies to require employees to participate in wellness programs. Courts have ruled that those programs do not violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, as long as the information obtained in the programs is used for the purposes of overall health coverage.
Employers are now spending close to $700 per employee per year on wellness initiatives in an attempt to curb health care costs, which have been rising. Wellness programs are one of the most popular benefits for employees. Almost three-quarters of the organizations surveyed offered some type of wellness program.
Some employers have claimed that their wellness programs resulted in success. Some companies say that when they required larger health insurance payments from smokers, some employees quit smoking. Researchers say that the programs can work, but only over the long-term. One study found that participation in a wellness program did lower health costs, but only after the third year.
In some cases, employers will offer a contribution towards health insurance premiums in exchange for participation in wellness programs. In other cases, if employees refuse to participate, the employer may issue threats, such as a threat to cancel health insurance.
Several of these cases have hit the courts, and employees have been losing. Last spring, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission put out proposed guidelines on wellness programs, which seemed to make both sides of the fight unhappy. Under the proposed guidelines, the maximum penalty an employer can impose on workers who refuse to participate in wellness programs is 30 percent of the total cost of insurance coverage for the employee. These guidelines take effect next month.
Both sides of the fight expect to see more legal activity on the issue in the future. Many experts feel that the legal reasoning in the cases that have been decided on this issue to date is wrong. There are two other charges pending with the EEOC challenging employer wellness programs. In addition, the new guidelines will most likely trigger new court cases.
At Liberty Law, Micha Star Liberty and Seth I. Rosenberg believe that employees who feel that their legal rights, such as the right to medical privacy, are being infringed upon by employers should stand up for themselves in court. If you feel that your rights have been violated, call the Oakland employment law attorneys at Liberty Law at 510-645-1000 or 415-896-1000. We work with employees to ensure that their legal rights are being protected. We work with clients throughout the Oakland area, including San Francisco, Hayward, Tracy, Fairfield, San Jose, Berkeley, Sacramento, and the surrounding areas. Call today to learn more or to schedule a free consultation on your case.