Employee wellness programs are one of the newest trends in healthcare cost management.

A growing number of employers are offering these programs to their employees. The reason?

A number of HR professionals and health care experts believe wellness programs can:

  • Help improve employee health behaviors.
  • Reduce elevated health risks.
  • Reduce health care costs.
  • Improve productivity.
  • And reduce absenteeism.

In an effort to encourage employees to participate, some employers are choosing to impose financial penalties on those that don't.  And that has led to a host of legal challenges.

In Connecticut, a class-action lawsuit has now been filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut, on behalf of Yale University's 5,000 union employees, claiming the Yale program violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

Penalty

Yale's wellness program, Health Expectations, requires each union employee and their spouses to submit to medical tests and to allow the release of their insurance claims data to wellness vendors, including pharmaceutical companies.

Failure to do so brings a penalty fee of $1,300 per year.

Generally speaking, both the ADA and GINA prohibit the release of employee health and genetic information unless the release of that information is authorized by an employee acting voluntarily.

Until there is more clarity, employers may want to offer wellness plan participation with only small incentives or penalties.

The AARP Foundation is a party in the lawsuit in support of Yale employees.

This latest suit comes after the AARP prevailed in another lawsuit involving an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rule permitting wellness programs to offer substantial incentives or penalties.

Until there is more clarity on this issue, Connecticut employers may want to offer wellness plan participation with only small incentives or penalties so as to make such plans appear to be voluntary.


About the author: Patrick McHale is a partner at the labor and employment law firm Kainen, Escalera & McHale in Hartford.