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Yale Sued Over Wellness Program

Jul 28, 2019 blog featured image

A class action lawsuit has been brought against Yale University for the structure of its employee wellness program. The employees who brought the lawsuit against their employer argue the university has coerced them into sharing private medical information through the wellness program.

The program is structured in a similar way to many other employer sponsored wellness programs at this time. The program incentivizes employees to go to their primary care physician and undergo screening for certain medical tests. However, a class of employees at Yale has perceived the program’s financial structure as a penalty rather than a reward and they do not view the program as “voluntary.”

Therefore, the plaintiffs claim Yale’s Health Expectation Program violates the Americans With Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by charging employees who choose not to participate in the program $25 a week, or $1,300 a year.

The lawsuit claims the $1,300 penalty makes the HEP involuntary. It cites one of the union employees at Yale subject to the HEP, who says Yale is “forcing” union members to do “something they don’t want to do” and “financially penalizing them if [they] don’t do it.” Another union member says he would prefer not to participate but “can’t throw away $25 [per week] to keep [his] information private.” The lawsuit also contends that $1,300 in New Haven, Conn. is equivalent to nearly five and half weeks’ worth of food, four months of utility costs, nearly a months’ worth of housing or a month’s worth of childcare.

Until Jan. 1, 2019, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allowed employers to provide financial incentives for employees who participate in wellness programs, as long as the incentive does not exceed 30% of the overall cost of the individual health plan and the program is “voluntary.”

In 2016, however, AARP sued to overturn the EEOC rules, arguing the cost of refusing participation meant that some wellness programs were only “voluntary” in theory. The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled in August 2017 there was no basis for the 30% limit and ordered the EEOC to review its rules.

While the EEOC has vacated the 30% limit, employers do not currently have a clear definition of what constitutes a wellness program as truly being “voluntary” and the current rules do not clearly forbid employers from offering financial incentives in exchange for wellness program participation.

These facts leave the legal landscape unclear. Reach out to your legal counsel or Hylant if you have questions about the current state and potential risk of your wellness program design.

Author Maddison Bezdicek, Health Strategies Practice Leader, Hylant Employee Benefits Practice

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