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Corporate Wellness Ethics: Employees with Disabilities

May 6, 2016

According to The Washington Post, corporate wellness programs come with a slew of privacy and discrimination concerns—especially among employees with disabilities and chronic diseases. Some people are concerned that certain aspects of wellness programs like an employee’s medical history is an invasion of privacy and will encourage discrimination based on an employee’s wellness. However, that doesn’t corporate wellness is wrong for your company. Here are the three steps you should take to avoid discrimination in your wellness program:

Step 1: Understand the Federal Laws Protecting Employees with Disabilities

Federal law has three programs designed to prevent discrimination in the workplace:

  1. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prohibits discrimination in group health plans based on the health of an individual.
  2. Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits discrimination based on an employee’s health status.
  3. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits discrimination “on the basis of genetic information,” meaning an employer cannot ask about an employee’s genetic information—including the health status of family members and family history.

Together, these laws set the standards for a legal, non-discriminatory wellness program by making sure employers cannot discriminate based on disability and health status of an employee.

Step 2: Make Sure Employee Information Is Private

Privacy is one of the main concerns of wellness programs and employees with chronic illness or disabilities. When employees sign up for your wellness program, they are signing up with the faith that their information will remain private and not be used against them. When creating a sign-up sheet for your wellness program, make sure that you have something in the disclosure form that tells employees what information will be collected and who can access it. It’s also a good idea to have someone in charge of making sure that information stays secure and inaccessible to other parties without permission from the employee.

Step 3: Make Accommodations for Those with Disabilities

If you do not make accommodations, employees who do not or cannot reach the standard due to a disability could end up paying more than an employee who meets that standard. Unfortunately, this practice is not illegal, as evidenced by this court case where employees who didn’t meet the standard or refused to participate had their health coverage removed by the company. Legal or not, you do not want to follow this example, as it can get you into trouble. Making your wellness program inclusive ensures that all employees know about the program and have the chance to participate if they wish. One of the ways to make the program inclusive is to have a health-contingent incentive, or where employees get rewarded based on meeting specific health criteria, that makes accommodations for those with chronic illness or disabilities. This kind of incentive means that all employees will be able to get an equal chance to get rewards set out by the program, like a reduction on how much they pay for health care costs without fear of being penalized.