The federal government has filed two lawsuits against companies that set up “wellness programs” for their employees. According to the government, wellness programs are perfectly fine if they’re voluntary – but these two companies’ programs weren’t really “voluntary” because workers were penalized if they didn’t participate.
Many employers have started wellness programs recently as a way to reduce health insurance costs. The programs are now used by about 94% of businesses with more than 200 workers.
But wellness programs can be tricky, because they often require workers to divulge sensitive information, including disabilities and family medical history. This can conflict with federal laws against discrimination based on disabilities and genetics, and can raise other problems because certain health issues occur disproportionately on the basis of age, sex and race.
Therefore, it’s critical that workers don’t feel pressured to join such a program and disclose this type of information.
The two new lawsuits both targeted companies in Wisconsin. In one case, according to the government, an employee at a plastics manufacturer was asked to participate in a program, but wasn’t able to do so because he was on medical leave. The company responded by canceling his health insurance.
In the other case, a worker at an energy company refused to disclose her medical information because she was worried that the company couldn’t guarantee its confidentiality. The company allegedly raised her health insurance premiums by $400 a month, and later fired her in retaliation.