Wisconsin court upholds employer wellness program

A noteworthy employment law challenge brought by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission was struck down by the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin in 2015. In April 2016, it was revealed that the EEOC had appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit. The original decision concerned a Wisconsin manufacturer that forced its workers to undergo a wellness program before they could be covered under the company’s health plan. The court ruled that this practice fell under the allowed exceptions of the Americans with Disabilities Act because it counted as risk underwriting.

The EEOC countered that the insurance safe harbor exception for risk underwriting only applied to insurers and similar organizations. Because the company mandated that its workers go through the health program, the appeal claimed it was in violation of the exemption for voluntary wellness programs.

Legal observers say it’s highly likely that this case will advance to the Supreme Court if the EEOC prevails on appeal. The dispute is made even more complicated by the fact that wellness programs that enjoy voluntary and safe-harbor insurance exemptions have the potential for overlap. Experts also say the political nature of the debate between employees and employers who don’t want to assume the full burden of health care costs could impact the ultimate resolution of the issue.

There are many forms of disability discrimination. In some situations, employers merely fail to provide protections like accommodating someone’s health condition in the workplace. Other cases see companies denying vital benefits, like health care coverage, on the grounds that they shouldn’t be responsible for preexisting medical ailments. Courts are often slow to settle these matters, and judges have varied opinions on what the law actually means. Disability discrimination victims may want to have the advice of counsel in how best to structure their claims before filing.

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