Legalities of Workplace Wellness Programs

There are many benefits to a well-constructed and well-run workplace wellness program: employees are healthier and experience fewer absences, the workplace is more productive, and the employer often saves on health costs. However, these programs must be put together in a way that conforms with strict legal requirements.

General Issues

In most cases, workplace wellness programs are an effective tool that can be used to achieve beneficial goals for both employers and participants alike. In fact, the Texas Department of State Health Services recommends a six-step process to create a wellness program on their site in hopes that such initiatives will promote good health and wellness at workplaces across Texas.

Employee wellness plans must be planned and executed carefully, however. If not properly implemented, workplace wellness programs run the risk of violating workers civil rights. When putting together a wellness program for the workplace, it’s important to keep those laws in mind. This article reviews the primary areas of concern when it comes to wellness programs and the law but it is by no means a comprehensive treatment of the subject. It also does not address the EEOC’s rules and resulting litigation involving so-called “voluntary” workplace wellness programs. Before implementing a workplace wellness program, it is best to consult with an employment law attorney.

Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA)

The ADA limits the type of information an employer can solicit from employees. Health information must be related to the position—for instance, an employer who runs a warehouse will need to ask questions about physical strength, whereas an office manager won’t need that information and therefore has no business asking for it.

Asking questions about confidential medical information such as blood pressure, prescriptions, and so forth is illegal inasmuch as answering those questions is considered mandatory. In addition, this information must be kept confidential if it is given, and it cannot be used to make employment decisions.

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA)

Similar to the ADA, GINA requires that workplace wellness programs not be mandatory. Genetic information may only be requested on a voluntary basis and if written authorization is provided. This authorization must clearly outline the type of information that will be provided and how it will be used and also detail GINA’s restrictions on the disclosure of that information.

Affordable Care Act (ACA)

The ACA prevents discrimination based on health status, and it divides wellness programs into two categories: those that reward participation, and those that reward results. Programs that encourage and reward participation are allowed under ACA regulations. Programs that reward results are legal only if they meet certain criteria. These criteria include allowing for alternative goals such as allowing employees to qualify for the reward if they improve their health rather than requiring them to achieve a certain results threshold.

When constructing a workplace wellness program, an experienced employment lawyer should be involved in the process to ensure the program is non-discriminatory and that it follows privacy laws. Simon Paschal, PLLC can assist you through this process.

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