Wellness Programs

        EEOC Issues Proposed Rule on the ADA and Wellness Programs


Many employers offer workplace wellness programs as a way to help control health care costs, encourage healthier lifestyles and prevent disease.

Employers may offer participatory wellness programs, which do not require individuals to meet a health-related standard in order to obtain an incentive. Participatory wellness programs include, for example, subsidized fitness club memberships, reimbursement of smoking cessation classes (without regard to whether the employee quits smoking) or rewards for completing a health risk assessment (HRA) without any further action required by the employee with respect to the health issues identified by the HRA.

Employers may also offer health-contingent wellness programs, which require individuals to satisfy a standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. For example, health-contingent wellness programs may require participants to participate in exercise programs, remain tobacco-free or attain certain results on biometric screenings (for example, low cholesterol, blood glucose and blood pressure levels) to obtain an incentive.

Wellness program incentives can be framed as rewards or penalties and often take the form of prizes, cash, or a reduction or increase in health care premiums or cost-sharing.

On April 16, 2015, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) released a proposed rule that describes how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employee wellness programs that include questions about employees’ health or medical examinations. Although the ADA limits when employers may inquire about employees’ health or require them to undergo medical examinations, these inquiries and exams are permitted if they are part of a voluntary wellness program.

The long-awaited proposed rule would provide much needed guidance for employers on how to structure employee wellness programs without violating the ADA. Most importantly, the proposed rule addresses the amount of incentives that may be offered under employee wellness programs that are part of group health plans. This amount is generally consistent with HIPAA’s limits on wellness program incentives, although the proposed rule does not fully incorporate HIPAA’s increased incentive limit for tobacco cessation programs.