Employee Benefits-EEOC Issues Proposed Regulations On Wellness Programs

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) has issued a notice of proposed rulemaking (the “NPRM”, which includes proposed regulations) on how Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) applies to employer wellness programs that are part of a group health plan. The NPRM proposes changes both to the text of the EEOC’s ADA regulations and to interpretive guidance explaining the regulations that will be published along with the final rule. The EEOC has also issued questions and answers (“Q&As”) which describe what the NPRM says and what will happen now that the proposed rule has been issued.

One question raised: What should employers do until a final rule is published to make sure their wellness programs comply with the ADA? Here is what the Q&As say:

While employers do not have to comply with the proposed rule, they may certainly do so. It is unlikely that a court or the EEOC would find that an employer violated the ADA if the employer complied with the NPRM until a final rule is issued. Moreover, many of the requirements explicitly set forth in the proposed rule are already requirements under the law. For example, employers should make sure they:
o do not require employees to participate in a wellness program;
o do not deny health insurance to employees who do not participate; and o do not take any adverse employment action or retaliate against, interfere with, coerce, or intimidate employees who do not participate in wellness programs or who do not achieve certain health outcomes.
Additionally, employers must provide reasonable accommodations that allow employees with disabilities to participate in wellness programs and obtain any incentives offered. For example, if attending a nutrition class is part of a wellness program, an employer must provide a sign language interpreter, absent undue hardship, to enable an employee who is deaf to participate in the class. Employers also must ensure that they maintain any medical information they obtain from employees in a confidential manner.