In Defense of Workplace Wellness

April 1, 2016 by Michael Naparalla, RN and Patti Plough, LPN, CWC, Owners –

Employers, and those of us in the workplace wellness industry, had big reason to celebrate recently with the U.S. District Court’s decision in the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) v. Flambeau, Inc. (No. 14-cv-638-bbc, December 31, 2015)

In the lawsuit, the EEOC charged that Flambeau, Inc., a manufacturer of plastic products in Baraboo, Wis., broke federal law by only offering discounted health coverage to employees who completed a biometric screening and health risk assessment (HRA). When employee Dale Arnold did not complete the screening and HRA, Flambeau shifted responsibility for payment of the entire premium cost to him, the EEOC said. Flambeau employees who participated in the screening and HRA paid just 25 percent of their premium cost.

The EEOC challenged that Flambeau’s mandate violated the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Its suit relied on language in the ADA that bars employers from requiring workers to undergo medical exams to participate in an employee health plan.

U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb of the Western District of Wisconsin ruled in favor of Flambeau. Attorneys for the company argued that its policy fell into the ADA’s “safe harbor,” as Flambeau used the information collected from screenings to design and underwrite its health benefits package. Judge Crabb determined that undergoing an HRA did not result in any discrimination based on an individual’s illness or disability. All information gathered during the HRA screenings was used at an aggregate level, so that the company could more accurately assess what to spend on its self-funded health plan. She also ruled that the health screenings were not a condition of employment, and there was no evidence that Flambeau employees were at risk of losing their jobs if they refused to participate. (Read the full ruling.)

Judge Crabb’s decision in the Flambeau case is a significant victory for employers across the nation who want their employees to be aware of their health risks and ideally take some action to address them. And according to a 2013 RAND study, nearly 80% of people today who work for U.S. organizations with 50 or more employees have access to a wellness program.

At Healics, we know firsthand how effective workplace preventive health and wellness programs can be. Every day, we help people lower their health risks and live happier, healthier lives. And in doing so, we help employers reduce absences, increase productivity, improve morale and realize clear, tangible savings on healthcare expenses.

The federal government agrees that employee wellness plans work. Joint guidance issued by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the U.S. Department of Labor and the U.S. Department of the Treasury encourages the use of wellness programs by employers.

It’s likely the EEOC will continue to challenge aspects of employee wellness, so it’s vital that employers implement wellness programs that are fully compliant with the existing regulations under the Affordable Care Act and other current laws. And to ensure optimal success with your program, choose a workplace wellness provider who can plan and deliver the results you want.

Healics is the industry leader in preventive health and wellness programs. Contact us today to find out how our customized services can help your employees enjoy the best, brightest lives possible.