Many workers at the construction company Austin Industrial face a difficult decision, according to a new charge AARP Foundation Litigation (AFL) has filed with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) against Austin and its parent company, Austin Industries. If the employees choose to participate in the company’s workplace wellness program, they could end up revealing sensitive information about their health. But if they decide not to join, they must pay as much as $2,400 in penalties each year.
According to the EEOC charge, this wellness program violates Austin Industrial’s 800 employees’ protection from discrimination based on disabilities or genetic information — and may also violate those protections for Austin Industries’ 6,000 employees nationwide. The two federal laws that protect workers from these types of discrimination are the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA).
“AARP Foundation has long fought on behalf of workers who want to keep their medical and genetic information private,” says Senior Vice President for Litigation William Alvarado Rivera. “Federal law prohibits an employer from collecting medical and genetic information from an employee unless the employee provides the information voluntarily. When an employer’s wellness program significantly penalizes an employee for non-participation, that’s not ‘voluntary’ — that’s a clear violation of the law.”