Bill Seeks to Clarify Wellness Program Rules

In response to lawsuits filed by the EEOC regarding employer wellness programs, lawmakers have introduced legislation to clarify rules.

U.S. Senator Johnny Isakson (R-Georgia) introduced legislation to reaffirm employers are within their legal rights to offer a financial reward in the form of lower health insurance premiums to employees who voluntarily make healthy lifestyle choices or who complete wellness programs.

The legislation is designed to provide legal certainty for employers and to eliminate confusion caused by Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) lawsuits. The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) supported regulations providing that a wellness program conditioning a financial incentive on the participant meeting a standard related to a health factor is acceptable so long as it met certain criteria. However, the EEOC has filed several lawsuits accusing employers of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and/or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) by failing to provide incentives to employees who would not complete a wellness program assessment or screening.

“This legislation ensures what Congress has already decided—private companies are free to promote health and wellness among their employees through voluntary incentives like premium discounts,” says Isakson.

The Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act (S. 620) would reaffirm existing law that allows for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward. It also clarifies that an employee’s spouse may participate in the employee’s workplace wellness program. The legislation would also provide employees up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative wellness program if it is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult for an employee to participate in the original employee wellness program.

The legislation does not limit the EEOC’s authority to investigate and litigate complaints of employment discrimination.

At a hearing in January, witnesses told members of the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee more guidance is needed for workplace wellness programs, noting that the EEOC rescinded previous guidance and has yet to clarify its stance. “This bill will force the EEOC to simply clarify its rules instead of pursuing litigation against employers because it has refused to give guidance,” U.S. Senator Tim Scott (R-South Carolina), a co-sponsor of the Preserving Employee Wellness Programs Act, said in a statement on his website.

Text of S. 620 has not yet been sent to the U.S. Government Publishing Office (GPO).