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Wellness programs may lead to workplace discrimination

The world of healthcare is rapidly changing. As more and more parts of the Affordable Care Act go into effect, New York workers may be experiencing changes with how they get insurance and what is covered. However, these same workers may be seeing changes at work. Under the ACA, employers can offer up to 30 percent off the cost of healthcare coverage to employees who participate in a voluntary employer wellness program.

Under these programs, employers can ask employees to reveal detailed information about their health and health-related plans. These questions can include inquires about lifestyle choices, pregnancy plans, marital problems and other very personal information. These programs can also require workers to undergo body mass indexing tests. If people are uncomfortable participating in the program then they can face financial consequences.

Some are now worried that these programs will create employment discrimination. Some argue that these programs could have a disparate impact on certain groups who choose not to participate. Now, Representative Louise M. Slaughter from New York has appealed to the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to open an investigation on these employer wellness programs.

She wants the EEOC to determine if discrimination is possible and how to best protect employees. Representative Slaughter argues that without federal guidelines about what can be asked on these forms and how the information can be used, employees could face discrimination.

Under federal and New York employment laws, it is illegal for employers to discriminate against employees based on a number of different factors. Employees in New York should know their rights if they feel like they have faced discrimination at work, especially as the laws surrounding healthcare change. They should also know that cases like these may be time sensitive, so the assistance of an experienced attorney could be beneficial.

Source: The New York Times, "Rules Sought for Workplace Wellness Questionnaires," Natasha Singer, Sept. 24, 2013

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