The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) is alleging that a Wisconsin energy company, Orion Energy, violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) by firing an employee who declined to participate in their workplace wellness program. This marks the first direct ADA challenge to such a program, making it of particular interest within the industry.
According to the EEOC, here's what went wrong with the company wellness program:
- The wellness program offered was not voluntary.
- The type of screening administered did not follow nationally agreed upon standards.
- By not participating, the employee was required to pay 100 percent of her medical premium costs.
- The employee was terminated shortly after the decision to not participate was made.
John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC Chicago district states, "Employers certainly may have voluntary wellness programs -- there's no dispute about that -- and many see such programs as a positive development. But they must actually be voluntary. They can't compel participation by imposing enormous penalties such as shifting 100 percent of the premium cost for health benefits onto the back of the employee or by just firing the employee who chooses not to participate."
Jim Pshock and our compliance team have been keeping a close watch on this case despite the fact that our programs are administered differently than this company's; in particular, Bravo Wellness administers voluntary programs and follows the federal regulations for wellness initiatives. Although our client's typical offering and the energy company's offering are worlds apart, we will watch the outcomes in case the ruling comes with a broad interpretation that impacts more typical plan designs. Whatever the outcome, Bravo will keep you informed as this case develops and a verdict is reached.