Is Your Employee Wellness Program Discriminatory?
The EEOC has issued rules that set limits on wellness programs that require employees to answer disability-related questions or undergo medical exams, such as health risk assessments or blood pressure checks, to either earn a reward or avoid a penalty. The rules apply only to workplace wellness programs beginning on or after January 1, 2017.
The term "wellness program" generally refers to health promotion and disease prevention programs and activities offered to employees as part of an employer-sponsored group health plan or separately as a benefit of employment.
Many of these programs ask employees to answer questions on a health risk assessment (HRA) and/or undergo biometric screenings for risk factors (such as high blood pressure or cholesterol).
Other wellness programs provide educational health-related information or programs that may include nutrition classes, weight loss and smoking cessation programs, onsite exercise facilities, and/or coaching to help employees meet health goals.
Under the final ADA rule, companies may offer incentives of up to 30 percent of the total cost of self-only coverage in connection with wellness programs. If the incentives stay under the 30-percent threshold, the wellness program still will be considered voluntary and will not violate ADA prohibitions against disability-related inquiries or medical exams.
The final GINA (Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act) applies to wellness programs offered by employers that request health information from employees and their spouses. It provides that the value of the maximum incentive attributable to a spouse's participation may not exceed 30 percent of the total cost of self-only coverage, the same incentive allowed for the employee.
No incentives are allowed in exchange for the current or past health status information of employees' children or in exchange for specified genetic information (such as family medical history or the results of genetic tests) of an employee, an employee's spouse, and an employee's children.
The rules permit wellness programs to operate consistent with their stated purpose of improving employee health while including protections for employees against discrimination.
Many employers offer workplace wellness programs intended to encourage healthier lifestyles or prevent disease. These programs sometimes use medical questionnaires or health risk assessments and biometric screenings to determine an employee's health risk factors, such as body weight and cholesterol, blood glucose, and blood pressure levels. Some of these programs offer financial and other incentives for employees to participate or to achieve certain health outcomes.
Lauren Sims, the author of this article, is an eqHR Solutions Principal Human Resources Consultant.
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