Workplace Wellness Programs Must Be Voluntary, Says EEOC
Earlier this year, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission filed a lawsuit contending that Wisconsin-based Orion Energy Systems violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by requiring employee Wendy Schobert to submit to medical exams and disability-related inquires that were not job-related as part of an involuntary “wellness program” and then by firing her when she objected.
When Schobert declined to participate in the wellness program, Orion shifted responsibility for payment of the entire premium for her employee health benefits from Orion to Schobert and shortly thereafter fired her. The EEOC maintains that Orion retaliated against Schobert because of her good-faith objections to the program and interfered with the exercise of her federally protected right to not be subjected to unlawful medical exams and disability-related inquiries.
“Employers certainly may have voluntary wellness programs”_,” says John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC Chicago District, “but they have to actually be voluntary. They can’t compel participation by imposing enormous penalties such as shifting 100% of the premium cost of health benefits [to] the employee or just by firing the employee who chooses not to participate.”
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