EEOC Asserts Employee Wellness Program Violates Americans with Disabilities Act

In recent years, employers have implemented health and fitness measures intended to curb the effects of chronic disease on their employees.  The implementation of these “wellness” programs generally results in lower health insurance premium costs, and a healthier workforce.  Nevertheless, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has challenged one of these programs as violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA).

The EEOC has taken the position that although employers are permitted to implement wellness programs, employers cannot mandate that employees participate.  In EEOC v. Orion Energy Systems, No. 1:14-cv-0109 (E.D. Wis.), an employee objected to participating in the employer’s wellness program, because, among other things, she was concerned about the confidentiality of medical information.

Following the employee’s refusal to participate in the program, the employer required that she pay the full premium cost of her health insurance, plus a $50 monthly penalty.  Ultimately, she was terminated, and  has claimed that her termination was based upon her opposition to the wellness program.

Although the EEOC does not prohibit involuntary wellness programs per se.  This particular program contained aspects, such as bloodwork, that the EEOC argues converted it into a medical exam or inquiry.  Because the ADA bans medical examinations except in limited circumstances, the program violated the ADA.  Presumably, the employer could have continued providing the program, but impose a penalty for employees’ refusal to participate.