Do I have to complete a health screening for my employer's workplace wellness program?

Question:

My employer recently adopted a workplace wellness program. They offer rewards for participating in various activities and meeting different health goals. The first step is completing a "health screening assessment," which includes answering questions about your own and your family's medical history and taking basic medical tests, like a cholesterol and blood pressure test. I don't want to participate. I feel like my health and my family's health are private, and I have no interest in offering up a bunch of personal information in exchange for $50. Can they require me to participate?

Answer:

No, they cannot require you to participate in their medical screening. Two federal laws, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), strictly limit an employer's right to collect or require employees to provide medical information. Both laws also require employers to keep employee medical history and information confidential.

Employers are allowed to require employees to take medical tests only in very limited circumstances under the ADA. Such test are allowed only if your employer has a reasonable belief, based on objective evidence, that you either may be unable to perform the essential functions of your job or may pose a direct threat to your own safety or the safety of others. For example, if you took time off after back surgery and there's an indication that your ability to do your job is impaired, your employer might be able to require you to take a fitness for duty exam before returning to work. Similarly, if you had a seizure on the job while operating machinery, your employer might require you to take a medical exam to determine whether your condition poses a direct threat to workplace safety.

Absent these kinds of extreme circumstances, however, an employer may not require employees to take medical examinations or submit to inquiries about their disabilities or medical conditions. This includes workplace wellness screening programs. Although your employer is free to offer a voluntary program, and even to provide a financial reward to those who participate, it may not require participation or penalize you for refusing to participate.

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