Could court case shut down your wellness program?

The outcome of a pending court case could seriously handicap many companies’ wellness programs.

At issue is the question of whether using financial incentives to drive employee participation in wellness programs violates the Americans with Disability Act’s restrictions on requiring workers to take medical exams.
The case involves the Broward County, FL, health plan, which instituted a “voluntary” wellness plan in 2009.
Under the plan, employees were required to take a “finger stick” test — to produce a small blood sample to determine glucose and cholesterol levels — and complete an online health risk assessment.
The rub: Those employees who didn’t take part in the wellness protocols had to pay a $20 biweekly surcharge.
Employee Bradley Seff filed a lawsuit against Broward County, alleging that the wellness program wasn’t truly voluntary — and thus violated the ADA.
Later, a federal district court judge granted class certification to county employees who had been paying the $20 surcharge. Ironically, Seff apparently left his job with Broward County, and is no longer involved in the suit.
The case, however, grinds on.
A body blow to wellness initiatives?
Wellness programs have taken off across the U.S. as health costs have headed skyward over the past decade. It’s a sound approach — keeping employees healthy leads to lower claim levels, which should lead to lower premium costs.
But if employers can’t use financial incentives — or in this case, disincentives — to pump up participation in these programs, it’ll be a serious blow to many companies’ wellness initiatives.
Generally speaking, the ADA requires that any medical inquiries of employees be voluntary or “job-related and consistent with business necessity.”
Will the federal judge in Florida find Broward County’s program to be “voluntary”? Is it possible that wellness programs could be considered “consistent with business necessity”?
We’ll keep you posted.
For a look at the decision to certify the lawsuit as a class action, go here. To read the full complaint, go here.