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Can Florida employers reward, punish employees for their health?

Is your company offering incentives to employees for engaging in a healthy lifestyle? Or, is your company penalizing employees who have unhealthy habits? Maybe your company is doing both. According to a Sun Sentinel report this week, a number of South Florida employers are increasing incentives and penalties to keep their employees' health habits in check.

While some employers are probably happy to earn an extra $200 for going on a walk over the lunch hour, others are wondering whether this amounts to some type of discrimination or invasion of privacy. This is quite a complicated employment law issue.

Local benefits professionals say that companies in Florida are monitoring health and promoting healthier lifestyles in an effort to lower health insurance costs. Employees earn money and prizes for engaging in healthy activities--like walking, getting an annual checkup or taking a blood test--while those who do not participate are penalized.

In some workplaces, employees are being asked to partake in questionnaires and blood tests which reveal their personal health information to insurers, and sometimes to employers. This may raise privacy concerns.

In fact, in 2009 a Broward County employee filed a lawsuit after the county charged employees who refused to take a blood test for cholesterol and diabetes. The case will be argued in Miami next week, and it may have a major impact in workplaces across the nation. The case tests whether employers have the right to demand employees get medical screenings.

The case could also have major employment law repercussions here in Florida. According to a recent study, up to 43 percent of employers in Florida offer health insurance discounts for those who engage in certain healthy behaviors, and 40 percent award cash or gifts to employees who take part. Around 12 percent of employers charge smokers more for health insurance.

Source: Sun Sentinel, "Employees rewarded, penalized to improve health," Bob LaMendola, April 23, 2012

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