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Employee wellness plans spark discrimination concerns

Employment benefits vary from business to business. Some companies offer great healthcare options, others offer flexible working options. Some creative companies like Pixar even offer all you can eat cereal 24 hours a day. Increasingly, employers are offering wellness programs as potential benefits to employees. On face these programs seem like a win-win for employers and employees alike. But they are increasingly coming under legal scrutiny due to the potential employment discrimination consequences that some inspire.

Employee wellness programs vary just like general benefits do. Some offer financial incentives for quitting smoking or losing weight. Others provide reduced gym memberships and gift cards for reaching certain goals. Still others offer free healthcare screenings so that employees are better informed about the current state of their physical health.

However, in collecting data about employee health and offering incentives for unhealthy behaviors, companies are inadvertently singling out employees with certain habits. Using that information for any kind of discriminatory purpose could be illegal. This evolving reality is concerning the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which is currently reviewing the legality and potential illegality associated with these programs.

Unlike other forms of discrimination, laws protecting employees with potentially unhealthy habits or conditions are still rapidly evolving. As a result, it is imperative that individuals who feel that their rights to medical privacy and equal opportunity are somehow being infringed upon due to their company's employee wellness program contact an experienced attorney. This area of law is nuanced, complex and is still being reviewed by the EEOC. Until this area of law is clarified, employees will need to fight potentially complicated battles in order to ensure that their rights are respected.

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "EEOC considers employer-sponsored wellness plans," Amanda Becker, May 9, 2013

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