Lawsuit contests legality of Oregon's employee wellness program

A group of law enforcement officers are accusing the state of Oregon of violating their civil rights under the Americans with Disabilities Act by forcing them to enroll in a compulsory health and wellness program. The five plaintiffs filed a federal class action lawsuit in 2012, but the case was recently dropped down to a county court. Another state saw similar civil litigation in 2011, but a federal court ruled that the employee wellness plan in that case did not violate the ADA.

The program, known as the Health Engagement Model, requires workers enrolled in the state health plan to undergo an online health risk assessment test. Those who fail to do so were charged between $20 and $35 each month in 2012, but Oregon stopped penalizing state employees in 2013 and began paying for portions of workers' premiums if they took the test.

The two Oregon State Police troopers and three Department of Corrections officers who filed the claim, which includes the president of the Association of Oregon Corrections Employees union, argue that the test violates the Americans with Disabilities Act by potentially making them disclose a disability; the ADA stipulates that employers may not inquire about workers' disabilities or medical conditions unless they are directly concerned with those individuals' work duties. It does allow employers to implement voluntary wellness programs, but they may not penalize workers who decline to participate.

In addition to violating the ADA, Oregon is also accused of violating state employees' protection against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment and unreasonable search and seizure under the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendment.

In a similar lawsuit facing a county in a different state, a court dismissed claims that the county's use of a wellness program did not violate the ADA because it served as a "risk mitigation tool," which it asserted is legal.

Source: Statesman Journal, "Lawsuit: State's employee wellness program violates civil rights," Hannah Hoffman, March 21, 2013

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