Work in the Time of COVID-19: FAQs for Employers

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Many employers establish wellness programs for their employees and hire third-party vendors to administer them. A recent North Carolina case highlights why employers should have counsel review any wellness program, including documentation the third-party plans to give employees.

In Maness v. The Village of Pinehurst, the plaintiff sued his former employer after he was terminated for failure to complete a health questionnaire form provided by the Village’s third-party wellness program vendor. Plaintiff was a law enforcement officer with the Village of Pinehurst, and in 2017, the chief of police required all sworn personnel to complete the health questionnaire and provide samples collected by the third-party vendor. The health questionnaire requested information regarding the plaintiff and his immediate family and whether they currently had or have a history of certain diseases and disorders. The questionnaire also asked for a more detailed medical history for plaintiff’s mother, father, siblings, grandparents, and other immediate family members.

Plaintiff, after failing to receive a reason related to a business necessity for Defendant to collect this information, refused to complete the questionnaire and was terminated. Plaintiff then sued his former employer for alleged violations of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), and wrongful discharge. Plaintiff alleges that the Village was requesting information about the manifestation of a disease or disorder in his family as prohibited by GINA and about whether he had a qualifying medical condition or disability in violation of the ADA.

This case is still pending in a North Carolina federal court. Employers should, however,  take away from this case that third-party consultants, who design wellness programs and prepare documentation such as health risk assessments, may not be aware that certain program designs, medical questions, or other provisions are possibly unlawful. Employers should have employment and benefits counsel conduct a prior review of any documents that will be provided to employees by third-party vendors in order to avoid possible violations of applicable law.

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