Employees suing Yale over fines for not participating in wellness program

The American Association of Retired Persons Foundation and the law firm Garrison, Levin-Epstein, Fitzgerald and Pirrotti have filed a class-action lawsuit on behalf of Yale University employees who are objecting to their employer instituting fines for those who don’t participate in its wellness program.

The university’s program requires its 5,000 unionized staff and their spouses to submit to medical tests and consent to their insurance claims data being released to multiple third-party wellness vendors. For every week that employees don’t consent, the university fines them $25, for a total penalty of $1,300 per year.

The lawsuit alleges that punishing employees for failure to participate violates the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

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“People really feel they’re being financially coerced into participating, understandably,” says Dara Smith, senior attorney for the AARP Foundation. “And there are a couple of laws that require programs like this to be voluntary. So our legal argument is that if you fine someone for refusing to participate, then it’s not voluntary.”

In the U.S., there’s a real concern that employers might terminate employees in cases where they or their families have expensive health conditions, despite that fact that it’s illegal to do so, says Smith. That concern is the reason some of the legislation that the lawsuit is based on exist in the first place. “The laws that we’re suing under also prohibit discrimination on the basis of disability or genetics. And so this is, in addition to that, a way for people to protect themselves from giving their employers an opportunity to discriminate.

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“We don’t have any indication that anything like that has happened at Yale . . . but it exposes people to that risk. And especially for self-insured employers, it’s a big temptation to get your hands on that data and figure out who’s costing you money.”

Health data is also extremely valuable in general, says Smith. “Having it out there in the world, the more people who have it, the more vulnerable it is to people who want to get ahold of it, either for fraud or to market to you.”

Yale University didn’t respond to a request for comment from Benefits Canada by the time of publication.

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