GINA & Wellness Plans in the Workplace


The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information, which covers a broad spectrum of variables from participation in genetic testing to a disease or disorder in an individual’s family to the results of genetic testing. Because some employers have introduced wellness plans as part of a larger effort to promote healthy lifestyles among employees, GINA comes into play because of the protected information that may be asked of employees or spouses of employees upon enrolling in a wellness program. So what does this all mean for you as an employer?


First, wellness programs offer a slew of potential issues for employers, because of the privacy of information. Be careful when incorporating a wellness program into your company’s health benefits program, and make sure to consult legal advice or professional HR expertise when implementing such programs.


Second, require employees to sign written authorization forms to obtain protected information of any kind. This written authorization protects you as the employer from claims of discrimination that violate GINA guidelines.


Third, employers should consider offering incentives to employees for spousal participation only if the information required for participation does not prohibit GINA guidelines as noted above.


According to an article from The Modern Workplace @TMWorkBlog, “The EEOC’s proposed new regulations clarify that GINA does not strictly prohibit employers from offering incentives to an employee for spousal participation and does not strictly prohibit incentives offered directly to the spouse, so long as all other requirements for wellness plans are met.”


Clearly, in 2016, we should all be aware that health and wellness programs are a positive thing for organizations to offer to their employees and employees’ spouses/dependents. However, as with most good things, employers must be careful to abide by the legal guidelines set forth, and keep an eye out for new legal updates that might conflict with their current wellness programs.


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