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Executive Committee & 
Board of Directors Meetings

Thursday, December 3
8:00 am - 4:00 pm*
The Westin, Sacramento

Your online registration is essential to helping us plan the meeting and secure hotel accommodations. Please note: attendance at one Board meeting per fiscal year is required per the Bylaws and PARSAC reimburses your expenses per the Travel Policy.

*Meeting time(s) subject to change. Please watch your email for additional information.
Does your organization’s wellness program violate the ADA?
In2Vate Best Practice bulletin by Erika Tyner Allen, J.D., Ph.D.

Two-thirds of U.S. employers now offer a wellness program for employees. These programs provide employees an array of services from health screenings and assessment, on-site fitness centers, more nutritious food options in the cafeteria to weight-loss and smoking cessation programs. What’s in it for employers? Well, program vendors tout that every dollar invested in employee wellness represents a return of $1.50 to almost $3.50. (These returns, however, have been contested recently by the Department of Labor, among others.)

Wellness programs are not without their legal risks. Several federal rules limit the amount of medical-related information an organization can collect about its workers. One can imagine health assessments and medical exams bumping up against these rules. In addition, laws at the state and federal level require that employers not discriminate against disabled workers. If employees are offered incentives for participating in a wellness program or for reaching health goals, does this amount to discrimination against those who cannot participate due to a disability?

Both the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA) set clear, well-understood limits for wellness programs. Until the spring of this year, however, the Americans with Disability Act (ADA) has been far murkier. A newly proposed rule by the EEOC has clarified how the ADA applies to wellness programs. Does yours pass muster?

Generally, there are three types of employer wellness programs. First, some plans are simply participatory, in which the employer pays for gym membership or offers healthier food options in the cafeteria. The ADA rules for this type of plan are simple: they must be offered to all similarly-situated employees equally.

Other employers offer incentives as part of their plans—the second and third types. Activity-only programs offer rewards for employees who participate in a program such as weekly spin classes. Outcome-only programs offer rewards for employees who meet a set goal such as stopping smoking or losing weight. The ADA only allows employers to conduct medical exams as part of an employee health program when the exams are voluntary. Do incentives offered under either of these kinds of wellness programs render participation in them involuntary?

The recent EEOC proposed guidance clarified the line between voluntary and involuntary. To maintain voluntariness under the ADA, wellness programs must:

  • Provide a notice explaining to employees what medical information will be collected, how it will be used, who will receive it, and how its disclosure will be protected from improper disclosure. Generally, medical information may only be provided to the employer in aggregated terms.
  • Provide the results of a health assessment or other biometric collection to the employee. Even better, the program should recommend to the employee how to improve his or her health.
  • Not force employees to participate in a wellness program. Never retaliate against or coerce, intimidate, or threaten an employee who does not participate.
  • Not take a burdensome amount of time to participate, nor require any intrusive procedures, nor place any significant cost on an employee.
  • Not deny coverage or particular benefits, nor take an adverse action against an employee who refuses to participate or achieve a specific outcome in a wellness program.
  • Limit incentives to no more than 30 percent of total cost of employee coverage.

This proposed rule has been open for public commentary and should be finalized soon. While some changes may be made, experts expect these major principles to stay in place.

An employee wellness program can be a very worthwhile benefit to employers as well as employees if it keeps employees more productive and absent less often.


Free, interactive online training for AB 1234 Ethics Education and AB 1825 sexual harassment prevention, as well as informative "Best Management Practice" bulletins like the one you just read are available 24/7 through in2vate.
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