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A woman on a treadmill at work. Photo: Lane Turner/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

Workplaces have increasingly offered employees financial bonuses for hitting new wellness goals, but the initiatives have recently become controversial given they offer employers an inside look at their employee's health records, writes Julie Appleby of NPR.

The big picture: The Americans with Disabilities Act and genetic privacy laws prevent employers from looking at employees' health information. Critics of the program argue that employers wouldn't be able to access this data without providing financial incentive to their employees, and sometimes that incentive is so large that employees can't afford not to participate.

The state of play: A federal judge recently rejected a wellness rule set by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that would have imposed a 30% benefit cap to employees participating in workplace wellness programs.

  • The judge ruled the EEOC failed to prove that a 30% cap does not render the plan involuntary, forcing the commission to come up with a new rule.
  • On January 1, the judge's decision will take effect, and will essentially overturn all existing rules relating to the programs.
  • Nearly 4 in 10 employers say they aren't sure how their wellness plans will change after the ruling, Appleby writes, but experts expect these incentives to decline.

Be smart: Despite people's willingness to participate in these programs, the improvement they have on employee health is modest at best, Bloomberg reports. Employee behavior only changes marginally, and some who aren't healthy choose not to participate, rendering the programs unnecessary.

The bottom line: The programs won't be going anywhere given employers want to keep health insurance costs down, but questions about how to regulate them will only become more prominent.

Go deeper

Updated 7 hours ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Health: Large coronavirus outbreaks leading to high death rates — Coronavirus cases are at an all-time high ahead of Election Day — U.S. tops 88,000 COVID-19 cases, setting new single-day record.
  2. Politics: States beg for Warp Speed billions.
  3. World: Taiwan reaches a record 200 days with no local coronavirus cases.
  4. 🎧Podcast: The vaccine race turns toward nationalism.

Technical glitch in Facebook's ad tools creates political firestorm

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. Photo: SOPA Images / Contributor

Facebook said late Thursday that a mix of "technical problems" and confusion among advertisers around its new political ad ban rules caused issues affecting ad campaigns of both parties.

Why it matters: A report out Thursday morning suggested the ad tools were causing campaign ads, even those that adhered to Facebook's new rules, to be paused. Very quickly, political campaigners began asserting the tech giant was enforcing policies in a way that was biased against their campaigns.

8 hours ago - Health

States beg for Warp Speed billions

A COVID-19 drive-thru testing center yesterday at Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens. Photo: David Santiago/Miami Herald via AP

Operation Warp Speed has an Achilles' heel: States need billions to distribute vaccines — and many say they don't have the cash.

Why it matters: The first emergency use authorization could come as soon as next month, but vaccines require funding for workers, shipping and handling, and for reserving spaces for vaccination sites.