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Representative seeks to ban discrimination based on health data

Democratic Representative Louise Slaughter of New York is taking the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to task in order to curtail employer wellness programs that requireemployees to fill out extensive health questionnaires. She contends such information is being used to discriminate against workers.

Ms. Slaughter has been an enthusiastic supporter of privacy in cases of revealing health data that can be used to unfairly single out a worker. Her movement is a timely one, coinciding with the recent Pennsylvania State University suspension of its new wellness program, which had elicited strong opposition from its faculty. She described the actions of the university as appalling in reference to the institution's requirement of employees to pay $100 penalties if they declined to fill out the wellness questionnaires.

Among the issues listed in the questionnaire were inquiries regarding pressures on the job, personal domestic issues, or family planning. If a female were required to answer questions regarding pregnancy plans, it might lead to reticence on their part to participate in the program due to possible gender-based discrimination.

The representative documented her objectives in writing and considers the matter close to her heart, having authored the bill calling for protection against the revelation of unnecessary information in based on genetic information or health insurance issues.

In her criticism of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's delay in taking action to enforce citizens' rights to not reveal personal health information, she has called for a more precise definition of voluntary participation, as well as firmer guidance to prevent discriminatory actions.

Ms. Slaughter has criticized the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's delay in responding to her allegations. Her supporters acknowledge that some employers may over-extend their boundaries by getting into areas that are too personal and invasive. Recent activity by the commission suggest they are considering holding meetings that delve further into possible restrictions in revealing intimate health data.

If any employee has felt subjected to invasive wellness questionnaires, he or she should seek legal advice on this matter, as it is a direct violation of the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act and represents workplace discrimination.

nytimes.com, "Rules sought for workplace wellness questionnaires" Natasha Singer, Sep. 24, 2013

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