As companies struggle with rising health insurance costs, employee wellness programs are seen as a helpful way to reduce those costs. Some wellness programs are so aggressive, however, that employees are suing over them.
Roberta Watterson, a cashier for CVS Pharmacy in California, is suing her employer, claiming that it violated her privacy by asking her to disclose personal information such as her weight and level of sexual activity. CVS Caremark even threatened to dock her pay by $600 if she refused to fill out the form.
CVS spokesman Michael DeAngelis told The Huffington Post that Watterson’s suit has “no merit.”
"Our employee health benefits plan complies with all applicable laws," he said. "By knowing their blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose numbers, as well as other potential health risks, our colleagues are empowered to work toward or maintain healthy behaviors that can lower their overall health care costs."
A study by RAND Corporation finds that wellness programs have become very common, with 51 percent of all companies with 50 or more employees offering them. A 2012 survey by the National Small Business Association found that even many small employers have wellness programs, though they are less common among them.
Lawyers say that companies need to be careful to not overstep their boundaries when instituting employee wellness programs. Even if a company hires a third-party wellness program provider, the employer can still be sued for requiring employees to participate.
"I think this is a huge untapped area and a litigation minefield," said Ellen Sampson, a labor and employment attorney at Leonard, Street and Deinard in Minneapolis, according to CorpCounsel.com. "When you start asking people about weight, about diabetes, mental health issues or arthritis—about any of those types of issues—you have to ask yourself, 'Are you moving into areas that are protected under the [Americans With Disabilities Act (ADA)]?'"
There are also growing questions about whether employee wellness programs are even effective at reducing companies’ health care costs.
A recent study by RAND found that wellness initiatives that help employees manage chronic diseases—such as diabetes or high blood pressure—save employers money. However, programs aimed at general lifestyle wellness, such as encouraging employees to take yoga classes or lose weight, produce no net savings.
Read more articles on HR & benefits.
Photo: Getty Images