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Court Overturns Wellness Rules

A recent federal court decision has overturned U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission rules governing employer wellness programs.

Many employers have deployed wellness programs believing that they contribute to keeping health-care costs under control and can help to boost individual employee productivity as well.

In 2016, the EEOC finalized wellness program regulations, claiming that employers using them could easily violate personal privacy in ways prohibited by the Americans with Disabilities Act and Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

The key is whether employer requests medical exams can be defined as voluntary if they are accompanied by financial incentives. AARP filed suit, contending that the EEOC rules did not go far enough in protecting employee privacy because a program could still be considered voluntary when an employer provided incentives of up to 30% of the cost of self-only coverage.

A federal District Court held that EEOC had insufficiently explained the change and vacated the rules as of Jan. 1, 2019 to allow time for revision.

The ruling returns wellness compliance to its pre-2016 status, leaving many employers wondering whether their wellness programs are compliant, note attorneys Emily Zimmer and Lynne Shore Wakefield of the law firm of K&L Gates.

The attorneys recommend that during this year, employers can continue to rely on the commission’s wellness rules in place before the court decision.

“However, the court’s ruling calls into question whether and to what extent employers can continue to use incentives in 2019 and future years to encourage participation in wellness programs that involve features such as biometric screenings and health risk assessments,” they say.

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