The Pitfalls of Consumerism

Do you put as much thought into selecting your cellphone plan as you do for selecting which doctors and specialists to see for your medical plans?

This question was posed at the National Business Coalition on Health’s annual conference in Washington by Shawn Leavitt, senior vice president of global benefits at Comcast Corp., during his keynote address.

“More than half of all consumers say they’re dissatisfied with the cellphone plan they chose,” he said. “So, if people are having a hard time selecting a cellphone plan that’s right for them, then how do we expect them to make the right decisions with respect to their health plan and health providers?”

The subject of Leavitt’s presentation was that healthcare consumerism — high-deductible plans that put more of the onus for financing and managing healthcare on employees — will not work unless employees receive more expert direction and guidance to help them.

At Comcast, said Leavitt, HR has enlisted so-called “expert shoppers” to help employees with these crucial decisions. It’s coupled that with outreach to certain locations within its vast empire to focus on subsectors — such as call centers — where employees were making heavy use of emergency rooms (and driving up costs) to educate employees on alternatives such as urgent care centers.

“We understand that it’s hard to expect employees who are juggling multiple responsibilities to make the sort of far-sighted decisions we’d like them to make when they’re faced with something as immediate as a sick child,” said Leavitt.

Comcast is using its own marketing wizardry to help educate employees on making wiser healthcare choices, he said. “We have become very good at getting consumers to pay to watch bad movies and reality television shows,” said Leavitt. “We’re focused on bringing that same level of expertise to help our employees make good decisions on healthcare.”

The risks of consumerism were also highlighted by Dr. Mark Fendrick during a panel discussion on pharmacy drug benefits. One of the main questions the panel grappled with was whether it was right for plan sponsors to exclude certain medications from plan coverage.

“If you’re doing that just to save money, I don’t think it’s a good idea,” said Fendrick, director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Value-Based Insurance Design. “I think it’s OK if the drug has been proved to be ineffective or counterproductive or if cheaper generics of equivalent effectiveness are available. But do it for the right reasons.”

The trend of pushing more costs onto employees can end up doing more harm than good if it isn’t managed carefully, he said. “Raising deductibles and pushing more of the cost onto employees without giving them support necessary for needed treatment and medications will simply cause more of them to forgo what they need,” he said. “I’ve had patients tell me that until they exhaust their deductible, they’re not going to do many of the things I’ve told them they need to do to maintain their health. And that goes against what this whole idea of consumerism is supposed to be about.”

 

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Breathless at Work

It’s sometimes called “the hidden disease,” and the initials it goes by don’t help: COPD does not, in fact, stand for “Colorado Police Department,” joked COPD Foundation president and Co-Founder John Walsh during the opening day of the 19th Annual Conference of the National Business Group on Health yesterday in Washington. Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease isn’t remotely funny — more than 24 million Americans are afflicted with it, and its symptoms can make the daily business of living rather hellish.

“Imagine trying to breathe through a cocktail straw, all day, every day,” said Walsh, who has a genetic form of the disease himself. “It can make tasks like climbing a flight of stairs feel impossible.”

COPD is actually an umbrella term for a number of illnesses that can wreak havoc on the lungs, including emphysema, chronic bronchitis and some forms of asthma. Of the 24 million Americans who have it, nearly half aren’t aware that they actually have it — they tend to pass off the symptoms (chronic breathlessness, tightness in the chest, frequent colds) as mere signs of aging, said Walsh. About 70 percent of them are under the age of 65 and many are still working, he said.

Employers have a vested interest in both raising awareness of the disease and encouraging their employees to get screened for it and seek treatment if they have it, said Walsh. Untreated COPD results in frequent absences, presenteeism and diminished productivity — COPD typically results in co-morbidities such as anxiety and depression, he said. It’s also the second-leading cause of disability in the United States and extracts more than $32 billion from the country annually in healthcare costs alone, he added.

Although chronic smoking is a leading cause of COPD, factors such as industrial dust, in-door and outdoor air pollution and genetics also play a role, said Walsh. Even smokers who’ve long since kicked the habit are still at elevated risk, he said. “Smoking cessation programs are great, but even five to 10 years after quitting, these folks are still susceptible to COPD,” he said.

The COPD Foundation has created an employer’s toolkit to help organizations build COPD awareness into their wellness programs. It’s also helped fund two pilot programs, one in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the other in Montana, in which local healthcare-purchasing coalitions are working with their member companies to raise awareness.

Increased awareness of the disease is especially important because it dispels the stereotype of who tends to have COPD: elderly men who’ve smoked all their lives, said Walsh. “Actually, a greater percentage of women have the disease than men,” he said. “It cuts across all ages and ethnic groups. When you can’t breathe, nothing else matters.”

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Veteran Hiring, Revisited

Just last week, President Obama authorized the deployment of another 1,500 American troops to Iraq in the coming months, doubling the number of Americans meant to train and advise Iraqi and Kurdish forces.  But headlines aside, the fact remains, as we celebrate Veterans Day 2014 tomorrow, there are more veterans returning than soldiers being deployed. Indeed, the churn’s a steady one, of veterans leaving the military and seeking employment—and employers looking to add them to their rosters.

475000847Indeed, on the latter front, a CareerBuilder Veterans Day Job Forecast released earlier today found 33 percent of employers are actively recruiting veterans over the next year, up from 27 percent in last year’s survey and 20 percent in 2011. Further, 31 percent have hired a veteran who recently returned from duty in the last 12 months, up from 28 percent in 2013.

HRE has published its share of stories in recent years about companies that have made huge commitments to employing vets, and some of the policies and practices they’ve put in place to help achieve that objective. So I’d like to think businesses are beginning to gain some serious ground on this issue.

If we’re to believe the findings of a RAND Corp. survey released earlier today (also just in time for Veterans Day), however, there’s still a lot more work to be done by all parties concerned.

On the employer side, RAND’s analysis found companies still need to do a better job educating managers on the value of veteran employees, making themselves known to veteran job candidates and taking advantage of federal resources, such as the Veterans Employment Center and SkillBridge.

According to the researchers, many employers also fail to understand how military experience translates to the skills needed for civilian jobs and they lack the ability to track and measure relevant recruitment, performance and retention metrics.

The report, titled “Veteran Employment: Lessons from the 100,000 Jobs Mission,” explains …

“Many companies respect that their veteran employees want to be treated the same as non-veteran employees, but these organizations are investing resources in veteran hiring and could benefit from information about the return from that investment. Although companies perceive their veteran employees to perform well, they do not tend to collect metrics about veteran performance and veteran retention.”

Despite all of the attention workforce metrics has been getting lately, many companies, according the RAND report, are apparently falling short when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of their efforts in these areas.

Veterans, meanwhile, according to the researchers, too often believe their talents apply only in the security or defense arenas and employers (as mentioned above) struggle to make that military experience-civilian job connection.

Kimberly Hall, lead author of the study and a senior project associate at RAND, points out that “military members need to know that defense contractors and similar businesses are not the only places they should look for work, [and they can] contribute valuable skills and experience across the spectrum of American industry.”

One silver lining in the report (which is based on interviews with representatives from 26 member companies in the 100,000 Jobs Mission): Those interviewed volunteered that post-traumatic stress disorder was not an issue. This finding contrasts with an early study on veteran employers, in which more than one-half of the companies interviewed reported concerns about PTSD, suggesting that “employers’ initial concerns have been allayed by their experiences.”

In any case, you might want to carve out a little time this Veterans Day and check the report out, especially since it does include some good recommendations for employers, as well as veterans and federal agencies.

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A Most Notable 2014 Class of NAHR Fellows

The National Academy of Human Resources ushered in yet another impressive class of Fellows at its annual dinner and induction ceremony Thursday night in New York.

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From left, James Schultz, chair of the SHRM Foundation; David Rodriguez of Marriott International; Daniel Yager of the HR Policy Institute; and William Allen of Macy’s Inc. (Photo by Robert Knowles)

Added to the elite group of current and former senior HR practitioners and thought leaders were William S. Allen, chief human resources officer at Macy’s Inc. and one of HRE‘s 2011 HR Honor Roll recipients; David A. Rodriguez, executive vice president and chief human resources officer for Marriott International; and Daniel V. Yager, president and general counsel of the HR Policy Association.

Introducing the three, NAHR Chair Kathleen S. Barclay, senior vice president of human resources for The Kroger Co., reminded everyone gathered in the Yale Club dinner hall just how significant the academy’s honor is. “Becoming a Fellow,” she said, “is the highest recognition possible in the HR profession.”

Prior to joining Macy’s in January 2013, Allen was group senior vice president for corporate human resources at A.P. Moller-Maersk in Copenhagen, Denmark. He also held HR posts with Atlas Air Worldwide Holdings, PepsiCo and RCA Corp. As his NAHR write-up reads: “A common thread through Bill’s career is an unwavering commitment to a high level of organizational performance that helps companies win in their marketplaces. Elements of that philosophy include enhancing talent management and development, refreshing corporate cultures through clear and compelling leadership, and aligning compensation with performance. Bill is passionate about business processes that are simple, clear and aligned.”

Since joining Marriott in 1998 from Citicorp (now Citigroup), Rodriguez, a board member of the HR Policy Association, has provided leadership in the global growth of the company and the successful transition to the first chief executive officer outside the Marriott family. He has also, as his write-up reads, “built the strongest HR team in the industry and has led one of the most comprehensive and successful ongoing HR business-process-outsourcing programs, [in addition to leading] the company’s efforts to nurture and globalize its culture of innovation.”

Yager has been with the HR Policy Association for more than 26 years after working for the U.S. House of Representatives, where he was the principal Republican staff person on labor issues. He served as minority counsel to the House Education and Labor Committee and played a key role in drafting the WARN and Family and Medical Leave Acts. He was instrumental in helping to reinvent the HRPA, which is now an influential voice in public policy for HR at the highest levels of large companies. In addition, he is a leading expert on labor and employment, whose television appearances include The MacNeil/Lehrer News Hour and The Today Show.

The three were welcomed into the NAHR fold with a standing ovation.

Also honored was the Society for Human Resource Management Foundation, which has been the philanthropic affiliate of SHRM since 1966, helping to shape the future of HR and working to be a catalyst for thought leadership, global HR information and human capital knowledge.

NAHR President Richard L. Antoine, former global HR officer for Procter & Gamble Co. — who will be turning over the presidency in February 2015 to Jill Smart, former chief human resource officer for Accenture Inc. — took a moment to bid the group adieu after his six years of leadership.

After starting in the supply chain at Procter & Gamble, he told the group, it wasn’t until later, when he moved into HR, that he realized how powerful and impactful the profession was — capable of influencing “success in people and their careers.”

“Our job is to hire, develop and retain great people,” said Antoine, “and that is a great thing.

“We’ve had those bad days — those terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days — but we’ve had many, many more days [to realize] our calling, [which is] to enhance the lives of people,” he said, “and I was glad to be a part of it all.”

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Ford Fouls Up

Editor’s note: Correction appended below.

Will they ever learn?

Amid all the talk recently about the need to re-engage employees and strengthen your employment brand against the backdrop of an improving economy and tightening labor market, Ford Motor Co. decided to downsize 90 workers from its Chicago assembly plant — via a robocall (and on Halloween, no less).

Many of the workers assumed the call — which they received at home –was merely a prank, and showed up at the plant for their Saturday shift only to learn that their badges no longer worked: They were barred from their plant. Because they really had been fired. And that robocall had not been a prank.

In a statement to AOL News, Ford said that it did not normally fire workers via robocall and that it expected the layoffs to be temporary: “As part of our business process, we have temporarily adjusted our workforce numbers at Chicago Assembly Plant by approximately 90 team members. Our goal, as always, is to return the workers back to their positions as soon as possible based on the needs of our business.”

And to think, those workers had probably assumed they’d be getting a welcome break from annoying robocalls, now that the mid-term elections are finally over.

Ford is hardly the first company to bungle a layoff announcement, of course. Just a few months ago, Microsoft executive Stephen Elop received plenty of well-deserved criticism when he announced a massive layoff near the end of a long, rambling email to Microsoft employees within his division. Layoffs are often a necessary evil, of course, frequently dictated by business cycles over which the company may have little control. But a company — HR, in particular — does have control over the manner in which the announcements are made, and the remaining employees won’t soon forget how their ex-colleagues were treated.

In summarizing his thoughts about the Microsoft email, Bill Rosenthal, CEO of New York-based Communispond, explained it to reporter Jill Cueni-Cohen this way: “It’s tough to make hard decisions, and I don’t think what Microsoft did was a bad decision; it was the message that was bad. It was the way he delivered it.”

Note: An earlier version of this post incorrectly referred to Stephen Elop as the CEO of Microsoft Corp. Satya Nadella is the CEO; Elop is an executive vice president.

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The Fabrication of Culture

myth vs. factLaurie Ruettimann lumps the whole “corporate culture” concept in with the likes of Sasquatch, unicorns and Keyser Soze.

In other words, it’s a myth.

In a Nov. 4 blog post that I’m guessing has already been forwarded through a few HR departments, Ruettimann takes the idea of a super-duper corporate culture—and those who espouse the importance of having one—out to the woodshed.

“You are incorrectly applying the word ‘culture’ to a group of people who behave a certain way because their lives are dominated by a few powerful figures in your office,” writes Ruettimann, a consultant, speaker, writer, blogger, HR Technology Conference and Exposition® panelist and a former HR leader.

“That’s it,” she says. “Your [lousy] software company or little marketing agency doesn’t have a culture—it has a CEO and a leadership team that has particular points of view about how work should ‘feel.’ ”

There’s more.

“I’m on record saying that ‘culture’ is what we talk about when a company’s products and services are unremarkable,” continues Ruettimann. “We pay employees in culture when we can’t pay them in cash.”

We could debate how “culture” is defined, and could argue whether employees care about a great working environment as much as they care about the size of their paychecks. But saying that a company’s culture doesn’t matter—or even exist—is sure to raise some eyebrows throughout HR and beyond.

Take this response posted to Reuttimann’s blog, for instance.

“Maybe there’s a better term for it … but corporate culture is the thing that makes [or] breaks an individual’s experience at a company. The other tangibles are very important too … I don’t care how much a company pays me, if the environment is [shabby] I’m not sticking around.”

Provided he is paid fairly, another commenter says “it’s company culture that dictates whether I flourish, stick around or leave. Of course senior leadership need to set the rules, describe how they want their employees to operate … it’s their [bleeping] business that they are in charge of running.”

(Incidentally … Ruettimann and the commenters on her blog aren’t stingy with the expletives, are they?)

But salty language aside, it’s not as if some of what Ruettimann is saying shouldn’t resonate with readers.

For example, she urges her “friends and colleagues in human resources to start making evidence-based decisions.” Whether it’s based in reality or perception, there’s certainly a school of thought that says HR is still much more of a touchy-feely function than a true “strategic partner” or contributor to the bottom line.

While many within the profession would contend that HR has made great strides in using data and analytics to connect the function’s role to business performance, others feel there’s still a long way to go.

“I just want to say this article actually had me screaming YES!” writes another commenter. “… I am so tired of being associated with decisions and practices being made that are based off nothing!”

Another reader notes that “we try to sell people on culture when there is a lack of selling points in other areas. If you’re paying me a market-appropriate salary, providing good benefits, decent PTO and don’t let crazy people manage, I’m going to be happy and stay. Forget the complimentary Keurig, or the Foosball table, or the fully-stocked kitchen. Those things are [OK], but they’re not going to keep me.”

While free snacks and table soccer don’t begin to sum up what goes into creating a company’s culture, this comment still starts to get at what may be the biggest takeaway from this provocative post. It may be extreme to classify the notion of corporate culture as a figment of HR’s imagination, but it seems fair to say that employers and HR should be careful to provide their people with a lot more than just a “cool place to work” if they want them to stay.

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More Perils of Shift Work Revealed

A new report in the journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine finds shift work may not just have negative effects on workers’ sleep patterns or social life, but also on their cognitive abilities.

According to CNN, researchers from the University of Swansea in the United Kingdom and the University of Toulouse in France followed approximately 3,000 employed and retired workers in southern France — some of whom had never worked shifts, while others had worked them for years — over the course of a decade. They found that shift work was associated with impaired cognition, and the impairment was worse in those who had done it for longer.

The impact was particularly marked in those who had worked abnormal hours for more than 10 years — with a loss in intellectual abilities equivalent to the brain having aged 6.5 years, CNN reports.

The researchers say that shift work, “like chronic jet lag, is known to disrupt workers’ normal circadian rhythms and social life, and to be associated with increased health problems (eg, ulcers, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, breast cancer, reproductive difficulties) and with acute effects on safety and productivity.”

There was one (very weak) bright spot in the findings, though:  Workers were able to regain their cognitive abilities after leaving shift work behind, but it took at least five years to do so.

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Career Management Missing the Mark

For all the stories we’ve written through the years about the merits of career management, you’d think the practice would have gotten a 178784049 -- career pathbit more efficient than it apparently has.

The latest indication that career-planning programs are basically failing to help employees plot their courses and understand advancement opportunities they might find at their companies comes from Towers Watson’s 2014 Global Workforce Study, which finds fewer than half (46 percent) of more than 32,000 global employees polled say their organizations provide useful tools for plotting their career paths.

Worse still, at least in my opinion, is that 59 percent of high-potential employees — a group employers should be working hard to keep — say their employers provide the right tools.

Here’s another discrepancy: According to another Towers Watson poll — the 2014 Global Talent Management and Rewards Study – half of employers (49 percent) say they’re effective at providing traditional career-advancement opportunities; however, employers also rank career-management opportunities as the No. 1 reason employees would join a company, ahead of base salary and challenging work.

“Many companies are failing to see the big picture when it comes to career-management programs and are in danger of losing some of their best talent,” says Renée Smith, a talent and rewards director at Towers Watson. “The lack of career-advancement opportunities is the No. 2 reason that employees leave an organization. Pay is the No. 1 reason.

“At a time when hiring and turnover are increasing, and employers are experiencing problems attracting and retaining talent,” she says, “employers need to understand the importance of providing [these] opportunities. Currently [and clearly], their programs are coming up short.”

In a newly published paper, “Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers,” Smith says that, while it might seem simple enough to organize jobs, provide career-planning tools, define competencies and communicate opportunities, the reality of building an effective career-management program is more complicated. She points to several challenges identified in the Talent Management and Rewards Survey that employers face when trying to get the right kind of programs off the ground:

  • Career architectures and paths are poorly defined. Fewer than half of employers (48 percent) report their organizations have career architectures (or formalized frameworks) and career paths in place.
  • Managers are ill equipped to deliver. Only one-third of employers (33 percent) say managers are effective at conducting career-development discussions as part of the performance-management process.
  • Technology is not effectively leveraged for career management. Fewer than half of employers (45 percent) make effective use of technology to deliver career-advancement programs.
  • Most organizations don’t know if their programs are working. Only one in four respondents (27 percent) monitors the effectiveness of their programs.

Smith says there are other factors contributing to this challenge. “Information related to career management is often communicated in a disjointed manner. In some organizations, different parts of HR own different elements of the career-management process without clear accountability or partnership,” she says.

“Additionally, organizations may lack the business buy-in, which can make career management the sole domain of HR. Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step back and think through how to best design, deliver and measure an effective and integrated career-management program,” says Smith.

Granted, we’ve gotten wind of this problem from other sources as well. This HREOnline news analysis in June by Tom Starner is based on research from BlessingWhite that found fewer than half of 2,000 employees surveyed expect to receive any kind of career-planning advice from their employers.

In that piece, Jeff Kudisch, assistant dean of corporate relations and a professor at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business, says the main challenge is that many leaders and managers lack basic people-development skills.

“They can’t begin to help with career pathing if they can’t coach their people,” he says. “And worse, in many cases there are no incentives to hold managers accountable for that responsibility.”

There have also been pieces through the years pointing out that managers not only lack coaching skills, but are simply — and perhaps selfishly — reluctant to buy in to the whole internal-mobility thing and let (or even usher) top talent out of their hands.

“The company wins when you think about it from an employee’s perspective,” says Kurt Metzger, vice president of talent management at Newark, N.J.-based Prudential, in the Starner piece. “We are less focused on retention specifically than we are about what will get them excited and engaged [and] in the end, we have a much more productive workforce.”

Food for thought.

 

 

 

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So How Are the Financial Experts Doing?

When it comes to 401(k) performance, you’d think employees might do better with the help of the so-called experts, right? Well, maybe not.

Here’s a disturbing study I ran across today coming from researchers at Michigan State University and the University of Notre Dame: Financial experts do not make higher returns on their own investments than untrained investors.

153430966There’ve been more than a few surveys in recent years that suggest employees would like more help in managing their 401(k)s and preparing for retirement. So you’d think putting their nest eggs in the hands of “the experts”—or at least people they think are more expert than themselves—would give them some level of comfort.  But if there’s any truth to the new study mentioned above, which looks at the private portfolios of mutual-fund managers, they’d be mistaken. Among other things, the study—titled “Do Financial Experts Make Better Financial Decisions”—found the experts were “surprisingly unsuccessful” at outperforming nonprofessional investors. (The study is slated to be published in an upcoming edition of the Journal of Financial Intermediation.)

To reach their conclusion, the researchers—Andrei Simonov, associate professor of finance at Michigan State University, and Andriy Bodnaruk, assistant professor of finance at the University of Notre Dame—compared the portfolios of 84 mutual-fund managers in Sweden against the portfolios of untrained investors and found “no evidence that financial experts make better investment decisions than peers.”

Simonov says he’s not denying there aren’t talented fund managers out there, but does suggest that there are “very, very few of these superstars, and the average investor probably can’t afford to invest with them anyway.”

(Though the study took place in Sweden, Simonov and Bodnaruk believe the findings are just as applicable to the United States and other countries.)

Whether you’re an investor or a fiduciary, the notion that these experts aren’t performing any better than the average nonprofessional investor probably isn’t going to help you sleep any better at night. Most of us would like to think the opposite was the case, especially in an environment in which employees seem to be more stressed than ever about their financial well-being.

Employees certainly don’t need yet another thing to be frightened by. Oh BTW, Happy Halloween!

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EEOC’s Honeywell Suit Draws Protest

124666886 -- wellness biometricsThe National Business Group on Health says the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s recent lawsuit against Honeywell International over that company’s use of biometric screening in its wellness program “will have profound implications for any employer that offers employees wellness programs with incentives for biometric screenings.”

Employees at Honeywell could face as much $4,000 in lost incentives and surcharges in 2015 should they decline to participate in voluntary screenings of their cholesterol levels, body mass index and other measures, the Wall Street Journal reports. Other companies have similar programs in place; at Honeywell, it’s the potential size of the penalties that caught the EEOC’s attention, says the WSJ.

However, the EEOC is at least partly to blame for failing to provide the business community with clear guidelines regarding how to ensure their wellness programs comply with laws such as the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act, said NBGH President Brian Marcotte.

In a statement, Marcotte said employers have been “seeking guidance from the EEOC for years” regarding this issue, yet the EEOC has failed to provide it. “Their lack of clear guidance, plus the recent legal action, conflicts with the message of HIPAA and the Affordable Care Act, which encourages the adoption and expansion of programs that benefit the health of employees and their families,” he said.

Honeywell’s troubles are just the latest example in what appears to be an ongoing battle between employers and the EEOC over what companies can and can’t do with regard to wellness programs. Last month we reported on the agency’s lawsuit against Orion Energy Systems — the EEOC contends the company’s policy of requiring medical exams and screenings violates the ADA.

What should HR leaders do? Well, in addition to working closely with legal counsel when designing and implementing wellness programs, they need to ensure they’re being applied uniformly, regardless of age, race or disability, attorney Anna Maria Tejada of Kaufman Dolowich & Voluck told reporter Kecia Bal.

“You can’t just say everyone can do it and then require a health screening or blood test. Then you exclude certain people. You can’t, in my view, make the wellness program a requirement that will affect the terms and conditions of a person’s employment. And, if someone refuses to do it, you can’t fire them.”

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