Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Federal Standards for Workplace Wellness Programs

The majority of large employers that offer health benefits today also offer at least some wellness programs in an effort to promote employee health and productivity and reduce health related costs.  Workplace wellness programs vary in the services and activities they include, and about three-in-ten large employers use incentives to encourage employees to participate.  Depending on a program’s characteristics, different federal rules might apply.  Final regulations recently issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) would change standards applicable to certain workplace wellness programs that use incentives to encourage workers and their spouses to provide personal health information.  These new rules are intended to be more consistent with other standards implementing requirements in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that apply to certain workplace wellness programs.  Both rules seek to balance employer interest in incentivizing workers to participate in wellness programs against requirements that prohibit discrimination based on health status, disability, and genetic information. 

Federal Standards for Workplace Wellness Programs. 

Three federal laws directly address workplace wellness programs within the context of other broad rules that prohibit discrimination based on health status.  The Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) prohibits discrimination by group health plans based on an individual’s health status.  ERISA makes exceptions for wellness programs to offer premium or cost sharing discounts based on an individual’s health status in certain circumstances.  The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) prohibits employment discrimination based on health status and generally forbids employers from inquiring about workers’ health status, but makes an exception for medical inquiries that are conducted as part of voluntary wellness programs.   Finally, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) prohibits employment discrimination based on genetic information and forbids employers from asking about individuals’ genetic information, including information about family members’ health status, or family history.  Like the ADA, GINA allows an exception for inquiries through voluntary wellness programs.

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