The rules for employer-sponsored wellness programs continue to be a moving target; most recently, regulations issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) intending to address issues under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (“GINA”).
Articles Discussing Workplace Wellness Programs.
In October 2016, AARP sued the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) under the Administrative Procedures Act (“APA”) arguing that there was no explanation for the shift in the EEOC’s position relating to what makes participation in a wellness program “voluntary”. Originally, the EEOC argued that in order for a wellness program to be “voluntary,” employers could not condition the receipt of incentives on the employee’s disclosure of American with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) or Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”) protected information.
In spring 2016 we notified you that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) finalized regulations aimed at ensuring employer wellness programs comport with the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) and Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) would take effect as of the first day of the first plan year beginning on or after January 1, 2017.
The U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia invalidated the EEOC’s final regulations on the operation of voluntary wellness programs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The court ordered the EEOC to further consider its rules as required by the Federal Administrative Procedures Act (APA), but it did not vacate the regulations.
On April 5, 2017 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) announced that it had reached a settlement with Orion Energy Systems, Inc. (Orion) relating to the EEOC’s claims that Orion’s wellness program violated the American with Disabilities Act (ADA) because participation was involuntary, and that Orion retaliated against an employee who objected to the program. See https://www.eeoc.gov/eeoc/newsroom/release/4-5-17a.cfm.
On March 2, 2017, in an attempt to clear the murky waters surrounding wellness programs, Rep. Virginia Foxx, chairwoman of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce, introduced the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (the “Act’) (H.R. 1313). In an effort to protect wellness plans, the Act reaffirms existing law which permits employee wellness programs to be linked to financial incentives.
On January 25, 2017, in Equal Employment Opportunity Commission v. Flambeau, Inc., the Seventh Circuit rejected an EEOC challenge to an employer wellness program. The circuit court had the opportunity to address whether an employer’s wellness program was an involuntary medical examination pursuant to the ADA, 42 U.S.C. 12112(d)(4), but instead found the issues of statutory interpretation to be moot. As a result, employers are without what would have been welcome guidance on the ADA’s boundaries with respect to wellness programs.
As previously discussed, AARP has filed suit against the EEOC and challenged the agency’s wellness regulations. See http://www.disabilityleavelaw.com/2016/10/articles/ada/the-eeocs-2016-wellness-program-regulations-the-saga-continues/ On December 29, 2016, this challenge suffered a setback. In the December 29, 2016 Memorandum Opinion, U.S. District Judge John D. Bates denied AARP’s request for preliminary injunction and held that the regulations would take effect on January 1, 2017.
The EEOC’s 2016 wellness program regulations are once again under fire. On October 24, 2016, AARP filed a complaint against the EEOC in D.C. federal court challenging the EEOC’s rules relating to wellness programs. See AARP v. EEOC Specifically, AARP seeks a ruling that the 2016 Regulations relating to the Equal Employment Provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act (the “2016 ADA Rule”) (29 C.F.R. §§ 1630.14(d)(3)) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (the “GINA Rule”) (29 C.F.R. § 1635.8(b)(2)(iii)) are unlawful and request a preliminary injunction that would prevent the rules from taking effect on Jan. 1, 2017.
In a much anticipated decision, a Wisconsin federal district court has granted Orion Energy Systems, Inc.’s summary judgment on the EEOC’s challenge to its wellness program design. See Sept 19, 2016 Decision and Order. While largely good news for Orion, the ruling creates even more confusion for employers seeking clarity on wellness program design principles. In short, the Court: 1) rejected the EEOC’s claim that the wellness program violated the ADA because it was “involuntary;” 2) upheld the EEOC’s position that the ADA’s “safe harbor” for insurance could not be used to defend the wellness program design; and 3) held there was a triable issue on whether the employer’s termination of an employee who refused to participate in the wellness program was unlawful retaliation under the ADA. The case lives on due to the retaliation claim but many employers are scratching their heads on what the ADA requires for wellness programs going forward.
Last fall, we notified you that the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) proposed new regulations aimed at ensuring employer wellness programs comport with Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The EEOC recently issued final rules to amend the regulations.
Employee wellness programs are all the rage.
Employers implementing wellness programs have a number of laws to navigate: the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996, as amended (HIPAA); the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), among others. Most companies are familiar with the requirements of HIPAA, which historically has been regarded as establishing the confines for employer-sponsored wellness programs.
On May 16, 2016, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued final regulations governing the treatment of wellness programs under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The final regulations provide direction to employers regarding workplace wellness programs that comply with the ADA and GINA. Also, according the Commission’s press release, the guidance will help employers operate such programs consistent with applicable provisions of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), as amended by the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Employee wellness plans are a hot item these days. Increasingly, wellness plans are seen as a benefit to both employees and employers alike. As many employers jump on the bandwagon of this growing health trend, they should be aware of the other legal implications of creating and implementing these programs within their company. For example, a popular topic ever since the EEOC issued its proposed regulations last year has been how employee wellness programs can comply with existing regulations such as the ADA and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). Well now it’s time for employers to take note because the EEOC has just finalized its rules in this regard.