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Health-based incentives can cause employment disputes

Few people would suggest that unhealthy and unhappy people make better employees. To the contrary, study after study supports the idea that physically and mentally engaged individuals are more productive in the workplace. Therefore, employers are increasingly promoting wellness programs and incentive-based health goals for workers to follow. The general intent of such programs may be to encourage and support employees’ personal efforts, but some are arguing that mandating physical standards in the workplace is a form of job discrimination.

In Minnesota, one large company is making employee health a top priority. Allina is a major clinic and hospital service provider that is encouraging its employees to participate in various health screenings. In addition to completing standard medical exams, workers can complete biometric tests, which screen a patient’s body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels. As an incentive to improve and maintain their health, employees that score high on the tests receive pay bonuses at the end of the year.

The company’s incentive-based plan has been altered in response to the poor reception it’s received from some. Now bonuses are awarded to all participants, not only those with good health scores. Though, the discrepancy between the pay bonuses for positive and negative health scores is obvious.

Plans like the one used by Allina are intended to motivate workers to be happy and healthy; though, opponents note that some employees may be singled out for valid health conditions. Workers in one union do not take part in the incentive plan, and the union contends that using factors like a worker’s BMI to determine their health coverage is discriminatory.

According to one recent study, over 10 percent of large companies punish or praise employees according to their biometric test scores. That may leave room for illegal discrimination in some cases.

Source: startribune.com, “More workers gain incentives from employers based on their health,” Jeremy Olson, August 20, 2013

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