Play Time Cubicles

CEOs Prefer Fining Employees for Wellness

In a remarkable display of misdirected anger, CEOs from the Business Roundtable are fuming because the EEOC (Equal Opportunity Employment Opportunity Commission) wants to bar them from fining employees for wellness.

In the case that prompted this concern, the EEOC has taken action against Honeywell for a “voluntary” wellness program in which employees must enroll unless they want to pay a penalty of up to $4,000 per family for not participating. The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) bars employers from discriminating against employees based upon their health status and bars them from compelling employees to participate in health screening programs. However, employers are allowed to offer voluntary wellness programs. Provisions of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) say that employers can offer incentives that might amount to as much as 50% of the cost of health insurance.

And that’s where the conflict arises. The EEOC contends that a $4,000 penalty means that participation is not really voluntary for a low-wage employee. The ACA may permit it, but the ADA does not. Nobody repealed the ADA, so its rules for voluntary participation still apply.

The CEOs are hopping mad. They are threatening to try to undermine the ACA if they can’t proceed with plans to impose penalties based on participation in wellness programs. Gretchen Young of the ERISA Industry Committee says that these CEOs have be “good soldiers” for the ACA so far, but notes that “this suit of Honeywell struck an inflamed nerve.”

JoAnn Volk of Georgetown University’s Center on Health Insurance Reforms cautions that “there’s no good research that shows these programs actually improve health outcomes or lower employer costs.” And consumer advocates like the Obesity Action Coalition and the American Heart Association argue that simply imposing financial penalties and incentives will not necessarily create a culture of health.

Some of this energy should go into creating a healthy workplace. In our research, ConscienHealth is finding that roughly half of U.S. employees work in jobs that require them to sit for most of the day in uninterrupted episodes of 30 minutes or longer. Such conditions are pretty clearly linked to an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and death. A new study in Preventing Chronic Disease underscores the link to obesity.

Employers, you need to heal your own workplaces before you start fining your employees for their health risks.

Click here to read more from Kaiser Health News and here to read more from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Click here to read a new study of occupational sitting time and obesity risk in Preventing Chronic Disease.

Play Time Cubicles, photograph © Stephen Coles / flickr

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