Wellness programs have been in the news a lot recently, and much of the focus on these workplace initiatives has not been in a positive light. As a result of much legal uncertainty, members of the House and Senate have drafted a bill that clarifies numerous aspects of workplace wellness programs and how they should be administered.
The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (H.R. 1189, S. 620) establishes several important rules:
- Wellness programs can include a financial incentive for those who participate.
- Employee’s spouses are allowed to participate.
- If an employer’s plan is unreasonable or medically inadvisable for an individual, that employee has up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative program.
According to the U.S. Departments of Labor and Health and Human Services, over half of the employers in the U.S. currently offer a wellness program. Some reward everyone based on their participation while others are outcome-based, rewarding employees who meet certain goals or benchmarks. This latter practice is permissible under the Affordable Care Act, but has been contested by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.
In their decision on EEOC v. Honeywell International Inc., the federal district court noted that “great uncertainty persists in regard to how the ACA, ADA and other federal statutes, such as [GINA] are intended to interact.” Sponsors of the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act assert that the bill does much to reaffirm the existing laws. It also in no way prevents the EEOC from investigating and presenting any discrimination complaints.
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