Worker health and wellness

House hearing raises concerns over EEOC action on wellness programs

Tanya Clay House

Washington – Employer-sponsored wellness programs can lead to healthier employees and reduced costs, but recent Equal Employment Opportunity Commission decisions have discouraged implementation of the programs, according to witnesses at a March 24 hearing convened by the House Workforce Protections Subcommittee.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act offers employer discounts for workers who maintain healthy lifestyle choices, such as not smoking. However, EEOC has filed lawsuits against some employers, alleging their wellness programs violate certain aspects of the Americans with Disabilities Act or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

These EEOC actions have a “chilling effect” on employers’ willingness to create wellness programs, Paul Kehoe, an attorney representing the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said during the hearing.

The recently introduced GOP-sponsored Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1189) would clarify that if an employer-sponsored wellness program’s financial incentives comply with ACA, then those incentives would likewise be in compliance with ADA and GINA.

But Tanya Clay House, director of public policy with the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, warned that the bill would eliminate civil rights protections and allow employer wellness programs to penalize workers who choose to not undergo health assessments or disclose medical information.

“Wellness should not mean forcing people to pay thousands of dollars more for health insurance or turn over their private medical and genetic information to their employers,” she said.