Weighing the Pros and Cons of Employer Wellness Programs

As employer wellness programs become increasingly more common, so do questions regarding their benefits and drawbacks. On May 8, 2013, the EEOC issued a press release that outlined a meeting of a panel of representatives of business, advocacy groups, and providers held that same day. You can read the full press release here.

According to the EEOC’s release, the panelists discussed potential violations of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), Title VII, and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act (ADEA) that may arise through the implementation of employer wellness programs. For example, one of the panelists pointed out that certain groups such as women or older people tend to have more health problems than other groups. Additionally, certain races tend to have more problems with health conditions such as obesity and diabetes. Therefore, employer wellness programs may have a disparate impact on these groups that tend to have more health problems.

Some panelists also had questions regarding the interaction between employer wellness programs and the ADA or employer wellness programs and HIPPA. The ADA and HIPPA both allow for certain health related information to remain confidential but the employer wellness program may ask for the same information to be disclosed.  Employers will need to be careful to ensure that wellness programs do not cross the line to impermissible medical examinations of employees.

Despite the questions that these wellness programs bring, the programs may also have a positive impact by rewarding healthy behavior by employees. Some wellness programs may provide financial incentives for those that do not smoke cigarettes or are active in monitoring their health. Whatever your personal opinion is regarding employer wellness programs, it is clear that employers will be wise to seek guidance about their interplay with federal anti-discrimination laws before implementing such a plan.