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Wellness programs too onerous, EEOC says

Some companies have come under fire for implementing employee wellness programs that may be too burdensome, according to an article in the American Bar Association Journal.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has filed lawsuits against two companies in Wisconsin (Flambeau Inc., a plastics manufacturer, and Orion Energy Systems), alleging the penalties for not participating in the program are excessive and may violate the Americans with Disabilities Act.

The lawsuits may have implications for other employers that launch employee wellness programs. Beginning in January, the state of Maryland will require all employees on the state health plan (and their spouses, if they’re also on the plan) to participate in a wellness program or pay a modest penalty.

The penalties associated with Maryland’s wellness program aren’t as onerous as the ones associated with the wellness programs in Wisconsin that were challenged by the EEOC.

In the suit against Flambeau, which was filed earlier the EEOC claims the penalties for non-participation violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, which typically prohibits required medical exams and disability-related inquires, according to the Wall Street Journal.

A Flambeau employee was not able to submit to the required biometric testing or complete a health-risk assessment because he was on medical leave, according to the EEOC suit. As a penalty, the employee was required to pay his entire health insurance premium, according to the suit, while other employees received a large employer-contribution.

The Maryland state wellness program has similar requirements, but the penalties are not as costly. However, state officials did say they intend to gradually increase the penalties over the next few years.

In the other suit, against Orion, the EEOC claims the company fired an employee one month after she declined to comply with the terms of the wellness program.

About Alissa Gulin

Alissa Gulin covers health care, education and general business at The Daily Record.