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Philadelphia Employment Lawyers: Workplace Wellness Questionnaires Put Employees At Risk For Discrimination

October 8th, 2013

Health questionnaires in the workplace often seek intimate personal information about an employee’s health and family relationships, sometimes putting employees at risk for workplace discrimination.  These questionnaires pose potential invasion of privacy issues with some employers requiring monetary surcharges when employees fail to complete the health surveys. U.S. House of Representative member Louise M. Slaughter, D. N.Y., is calling upon the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to investigate workplace wellness programs and work towards ending this particular type of workplace discrimination by developing guidelines that would prohibit employers from using the information gathered in the wellness questionnaires to discriminate against workers.

Large employers, including Penn State University, have received considerable criticism for their mandatory use of such health wellness questionnaires.  The “Take Care of Your Health” program at Penn State required employees to fill out health questionnaires or be subject to a $100 monthly surcharge.  The Penn State questionnaire requested such highly personal information as the nature of a woman’s pregnancy plans, the degree of workplace stress and the extent of a couple’s marital problems. University officials suspended the penalty following numerous invasions of privacy complaints by faculty members.

Representative Slaughter, a staunch advocator of health privacy rights and author of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act  which protects Americans against discrimination in employment based on genetics was outraged by Penn State’s abuse of their health wellness program and hopes that EEOC guidelines will increase nondiscrimination protections for employees enrolled in workplace wellness programs.  Among her chief concerns is the issue of “mandatory” participation in such programs.  For example, discriminatory financial impact may occur to the extent that a worker is fined for not filing out a health wellness questionnaire. Ms. Slaughter’s letter to the EEOC strongly urges the commission to draft regulations that would ensure protection against employee discrimination for those who participate in wellness programs.

Under current laws, employers may legally use financial incentives to encourage employees to fill out health risk assessment forms, provided that the financial incentive is tied merely to the completion of the form and not specific answers.  President Obama’s Affordable Care Act permits employers to offer incentives of up to 30% of health coverage costs to employees who participate in health wellness programs such as health risk questionnaires or biometric assessments like the measurement of body-fat.

Professor Matthew T. Bodie from Saint Louis University School of Law who specializes in labor and employment law used a hypothetical example to demonstrate that employment laws in the future could get stricter if the consensus is that employers are asking too much of their employees in regard to wellness programs. His hypothetical example involved a workplace health questionnaire that asked female employees about pregnancy plans. These types of questions could cause a disproportionate amount of females to decline participation in the program. If there were monetary penalties associated with not filling out the questionnaire the company’s wellness program could have a discriminatory financial impact on the female employees of the company.

Although the EEOC held meetings this past May to examine potential problems with workplace health wellness programs, they have delayed in publishing any regulations.  The commission’s legal expert determined that the agency should issue guidelines on how wellness programs are impacting federal antidiscrimination laws, specifically the need to clarify what “voluntary” employee participation means. In the meantime, millions of American employees remain at risk for discriminatory practices as a result of the design of many workplace health wellness programs.

Employment Lawyers in Philadelphia at Sidney L. Gold & Associates Protect Against Workplace Discrimination

If you feel that you have been discriminated against on the basis of a workplace health wellness questionnaire or your participation in a workplace health wellness program, the Philadelphia discrimination attorneys at Sidney L. Gold & Associates will help you get the compensation to which you are entitled.  Experienced in all matters of workplace discrimination, the labor and employment law firm of Sidney L. Gold & Associates has offices conveniently located in Center City, Philadelphia.  We represent victims of workplace discrimination throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Call Sidney L. Gold & Associates today at 215-569-1999 or contact us online for a free consultation.

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