Corporate Wellness Programs Receive Scrutiny From the EEOC

The United States Equal Opportunity Commission (EEOC) has filed a petition, their third in three months, regarding a corporate wellness program. The latest petition alleges that Honeywell International, Inc. violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) through the administration of workplace biometric screening.

The program is similar to those seen at companies across America. The employee receives health care discounts and other financial benefits for undergoing workplace biometric screening and choosing healthy lifestyles. The EEOC claims the program violates the law because it is an involuntary, non-work related, medical inquiry. Second, the EEOC alleges the employer is illegally inducing employees to provide family medical history. If the court views the program similarly, it would be a violation of the ADA and GINA.

It is unclear what this challenge will mean for corporate wellness programs.  In the short term, with the end of year approaching, it will unlikely have an immediate impact. However, it will be important to monitor the evolution of the challenges because it could  change how these programs must be administered or even whether these programs can be offered.

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Employer Tips for Complying with GINA

Since laws prohibiting discrimination based on age, race, and gender receive most of the attention, it is easy to overlook similar laws that prevent discrimination based off genetic information.  The federal law commonly known as “GINA” and its corresponding state laws combine to prohibit employers from using genetic information to make decisions in hiring, firing, promoting, pay, privileges or terms of employment.  Genetic information includes all information relating to genetic tests of the employee and the employee’s family members, as well as information about diseases or disorders in the individual’s family medical history.  An employer can take several precautions to avoid violating these laws, including updating its company’s discrimination policies, examining employment forms for certain prohibited questions, and using cautionary language when talking to employees about their health.

For an expanded article on tips for complying with GINA, please click here.

© 2012 Parsonage Vandenack Williams LLC

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