In recent years, more and more employers are turning to workplace wellness programs to combat rising health care costs by rewarding employees for improving their health-related behaviors and penalizing those who do not attain measureable health outcomes. Yet these wellness programs run counter to the goals of improving the overall health and livelihood of employees when they shift health care costs onto the employees who need lower premiums the most. There is little evidence that these programs can avoid being discriminatory. This Note analyzes the disparate impact of workplace wellness programs on low-income individuals, individuals with disabilities, and certain racial minorities. It explains how employers utilize wellness programs as a subterfuge for discriminatory cost-shifting—in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964—that decreases access to, and affordability of, quality health care services. This Note argues that, in order to rectify the discriminatory effects of these programs, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission must issue explicit guidance and exercise its power effectively as an enforcer of anti-discrimination law. Additionally, the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act must be modified to better define “voluntariness” within the realm of incentives and penalties.
More Carrot, Less Stick: Workplace Wellness Programs & The Discriminatory Impact of Financial and Health-Based Incentives,
B.C.J.L. & Soc. Just.