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EEOC Signals Increased Focus on Employer-Sponsored Wellness Programs

By Martha J. Zackin

A majority of US employers offer some sort of wellness program designed to reduce the cost of health insurance and healthcare costs, and to improve the health and well-being of employees.  However, unless care is taken, even well-intentioned wellness programs may violate federal law.

The EEOC held a public meeting on May 8 to discuss the interplay of employer-sponsored wellness programs and federal anti-discrimination laws.  Invited panelists discussed the various ways in which wellness programs could violate the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, the Health Information Portability and Accountability Act, and the Affordable Care Act.  For example, according to a description of the meeting set forth in an EEOC-issued press release, wellness programs and anti-discrimination laws intersect – and sometimes clash – when the programs require medical exams or ask disability-related questions, both of which would ordinarily give rise to a violation of the ADA, GINA, or both.

Panelists asked the EEOC for guidance, to facilitate employer compliance and to clarify the relationship between wellness programs and federal laws.  Clarification in the form of published guidance is likely to be forthcoming.  It is also possible that the EEOC intends to take a closer look at the design and implementation of wellness programs through targeted enforcement actions.  We will keep you posted.

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Martha Zackin