New rules issued by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission describe how the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) apply to wellness programs offered by employers that request health information from employees and their spouses. The new rules, which apply beginning in 2017, affect all workplace wellness programs (including those in which employees or their family members may participate without also enrolling in a particular health plan).
Background The ADA and GINA, which apply to employers with 15 or more employees, generally prohibit employers from obtaining and using information about employees’ own health conditions or about the health conditions of their family members. Both laws, however, generally allow employers to ask health-related questions and conduct medical examinations if the employer is providing health or genetic services as part of a voluntary wellness program.
Subject to certain conditions, the new rules generally allow employers to:
- Provide limited incentives as part of wellness programs that make disability-related inquiries or require medical examinations; and
- Offer limited inducements to an employee whose spouse receives health or genetic services offered by the employer–including as part of a wellness program–and provides information about his or her manifestation of disease or disorder as part of a health risk assessment.
In general, the maximum incentive or inducement may not exceed 30% of the total cost of self-only coverage under the applicable health plan. Among other things, the new rules also detail several requirements that must be met in order for participation in a wellness program to be considered voluntary, and require employers to provide employees with a notice clearly explaining what medical information will be obtained, who will receive it, how it will be used, and how it will be kept confidential.
In addition to complying with the ADA and GINA, certain wellness programs must meet specific requirements to satisfy nondiscrimination rules under the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA). Due to the changing law and the complexity of the requirements that apply to employment-based wellness programs, employers are advised to check with a knowledgeable employment law attorney to ensure that any program complies with all applicable federal and state laws.
Our section on Wellness Programs within the Client Resource Center HR Library provides additional details.