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Is a wellness program good for you? Pt.1

Employers dislike workplace lawsuits. They are expensive and distracting, as they may require detailed investigations of a company or a department. Lawsuits may also require a significant amount of time to produce documents, emails and other materials for litigation and require other supervisors and workers submit to depositions.

Sometimes the complaining employee is viewed as failing to be a "team player," and that apparently inspires some employers or their supervisors to retaliate against employees who complain about violations of any number of workers' rights. Of course, employers who retaliate against an employee for these reasons only make their situation more difficult.

But sometimes employers have to deal with conflicting laws that could cause litigation. Such a potential conflict has arisen in the context of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Many employers have instituted "wellness" programs to help lower their health insurance costs. Having healthier employees is important, as it means they require fewer medical resources and that they miss less time from work.

As an incentive, some companies have offered gifts and other financial incentives to motivate employees to participate. Some incentives may be as minor as water bottles or as major as thousands of dollars in savings on the employee's health insurance.

And it is the use of those incentives that potentially can cause problems. When does a refusal to pay the incentive become in some sense a penalty? We will discuss the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recent guidance on this issue next time.

eeoc.gov, "EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on Application of the ADA to Employer Wellness Programs," April 16, 2015

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