Working People

New EEOC Regs: A Fork in the Road to Employee Wellness

New EEOC regs issued yesterday mark an important fork in the road to employee wellness. The regulations provide clarity for employers who want to impose penalties on people with chronic diseases in their wellness programs. Reactions to these rules could hardly be more diverse. You can find people who think employers should have an even bigger stick to wield in their wellness programs. But consumer advocates are profoundly disappointed.

Many of the penalties in wellness programs are aimed at people who have a BMI above the magic number of 25.

Making the case for a bigger stick is Republican Senator Lamar Alexander who objected to the ruling by EEOC to cap penalties at 30% of the cost of an employee’s health insurance. “Congress will need to act to help employees seeking to improve their health, while bringing down their insurance costs,” he said. He wants to see penalties that can go as high as 50%. EEOC says that beyond a certain point (30% of the cost of an employee’s health insurance) big penalties will cost low wage workers so much that participation is no longer voluntary as required by medical privacy protections of federal law.

Among the unhappy campers are AARP and a host of other consumer organizations who see a real threat to the privacy of people living with chronic diseases. AARP Executive Vice President Nancy LeaMond immediately issued a detailed statement of concerns with these new rules:

AARP is deeply disappointed with the new EEOC rules on workplace wellness programs. These rules put workers between a rock and hard place: employees must now hand over sensitive medical and genetic information on themselves and their spouse to their employer’s wellness program, or protect their personal health information, forcing them to pay up to thousands of dollars more for their health insurance.

Older workers in particular are more likely to have the very types of less visible medical conditions and disabilities—such as diabetes, heart disease, and cancer—that are at risk of disclosure by wellness questionnaires and exams. By financially coercing employees into surrendering their personal health information, these rules will weaken medical privacy and civil rights protections.

The EEOC’s new wellness rules violate both the letter and the spirit of the civil rights laws against disability and genetic discrimination, which say that disclosing your medical information to your workplace wellness program must be voluntary.

Large employers are nonplussed. CEO Brian Marcotte of the National Business Group on Health, which represents large, progressive employers, said “it’s business as usual for most employers.”

Indeed, the big stick penalties for which the Business Roundtable has been lobbying are not used by employers who genuinely value the health of their workforce. The fork in the road to employee wellness goes in two very different directions.

Down one fork, you have wellness programs imposed on employees. These programs mainly serve as a subterfuge for cost shifting. Faced with onerous goals and requirements, many employees with chronic diseases just see the penalties as inevitable for themselves.

The other fork in the road leads to a culture of wellness that is provided for the genuine benefit of employee health. The purpose is not cost saving or cost shifting. The purpose is to cultivate the asset of healthy, productive, and engaged workforce. For employers who are already on this path, these new regs are irrelevant.

Click here to read more from the Huffington Post and here to read more from the Wall Street Journal.

Working People, photograph © alessandro silipo/ flickr

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May 17, 2016

4 Responses to “New EEOC Regs: A Fork in the Road to Employee Wellness”

  1. May 17, 2016 at 6:45 am, Al Lewis said:

    An excellent summary of “wellness done TO employees” (lose weight or lose money) vs. a “culture of wellness” The Huffington Post article puts it all in context.

    • May 17, 2016 at 9:24 am, Ted said:

      Thanks, Al. The pity of this situation is that the people who are being harmed by this sort of scam are too busy just trying to get by to even think about this shell game. Keep up your good work, please.

  2. May 17, 2016 at 8:17 am, Allen Browne said:

    Interesting but then there is the fact that punitive measures do not work to improve chronic health problems. And it is morally and ethically wrong to punish individuals for conditions over which they have little control rather than give them assistance to achieve a healthier life. It’s odd how the business community misses that healthier employees are more productive and less expensive.


    • May 17, 2016 at 9:26 am, Ted said:

      Absolutely right, Allen. Thanks!

      Most large, progressive employers are figuring this out and have no interest in an adversarial wellness game.