Many employers have adopted some kind of health or wellness program, either because they hope to improve employee health or because they have been pressured in some way. Employers have different ways of encouraging employees to take part in such programs, and their incentives have varied from the cheerfully encouraging to the outright punitive.
The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunities Commission (EEOC) has issued a wide range of information about employee rights, including wellness programs, and “voluntary” wellness programs.
The information released by the EEOC lists several requirements that must be met for an employee’s participation in a wellness program that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations to be considered voluntary.
Specifically, an employer:
- May not require any employee to participate;
- May not deny any employee who does not participate in a wellness program access to health coverage or prohibit any employee from choosing a particular plan; and,
- May not take any other adverse action or retaliate against, interfere with, coerce, intimidate, or threaten any employee who chooses not to participate in a wellness program or fails to achieve certain health outcomes.
Additionally, to ensure that an employee’s participation is voluntary, an employer must provide a notice that clearly explains what medical information will be obtained, how it will be used, who will receive it, and the restrictions on disclosure. Finally, an employer must comply with the incentive limits explained by the EEOC in its publications.