EEOC Meeting Explores Wellness Programs' Evolution

As safety and HR professionals know, they're an increasingly common feature of employee benefits programs. The board's experts believe employers need guidance to avoid violating anti-discrimination laws.

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission held a meeting May 8 to examine the use and potential misuse of employee wellness programs. Experts who participated said U.S. employers need guidance to avoid violating anti-discrimination laws, according to the board's news release about the meeting.

"We appreciate the valuable insights and diverse perspectives provided by today's panelists," said EEOC Chair Jacqueline A. Berrien. "There has been broad, bipartisan support for the expanded use of wellness programs to reduce health insurance and health care costs, but today's meeting underscored the importance of insuring that those programs are designed and implemented in a manner that is consistent with federal equal employment opportunity laws."

"As wellness programs become more prevalent, fostered in part by the signature health care initiative of the administration, we can be certain that their use will present more questions with respect to the federal laws we enforce," Commissioner Victoria A. Lipnic added. "I believe we have a responsibility where possible to let stakeholders know the commission's position on these important questions."

Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation reports 94 percent of employers with more than 200 workers and 63 percent of smaller ones offer some kind of wellness program; many of them offer some sort of financial incentive for participation, ranging from gift cards to higher employer contributions for insurance premiums, or penalties such as surcharges to employees for health insurance.

EEOC Acting Associate Legal Counsel Christopher Kuczynski told the commissioners that the most common intersection of these programs with the laws EEOC enforces occurs when the programs require medical exams or ask disability-related questions, both of which would ordinarily give rise to a violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. He said while the ADA allows employers to ask for medical information in connection with voluntary wellness programs, the commission should further clarify the meaning of "voluntary." In addition, some panelists at the meeting said EEOC's regulations under the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which bars acquiring genetic information, including family medical history, should provide guidance on whether spouses of employees may be asked for health information in the context of wellness programs.

A representative of the Consortium of Citizens with Disabilities, Jennifer Mathis, warned against using penalties or financial incentives for participation in wellness programs. She cited the high rate of unemployment for people with disabilities and said the consortium "is concerned that employer-based health programs, which penalize people with disabilities for not being as 'well' as others and for failing to disclose disability-related information the ADA permits them to keep confidential, make it even more difficult for individuals with disabilities to obtain employment on fair and equal terms."

The commission will hold open the Wellness Commission meeting record for 15 days and invites written public comments on any issues discussed at the meeting. Public comments may be mailed to Commission Meeting, EEOC Executive Officer, 131 M Street, N.E., Washington, D.C. 20507, or emailed to Commissionmeetingcomments@eeoc.gov.

Download Center

HTML - No Current Item Deck
  • Safety Management Software - Free Demo

    IndustrySafe Safety Software’s comprehensive suite of modules help organizations to record and manage incidents, inspections, hazards, behavior based safety observations, and much more. Improve safety with an easy to use tool for tracking, notifying and reporting on key safety data.

  • Create Flexible Safety Dashboards

    IndustrySafe’s Dashboard Module allows organizations allows you to easily create and view safety KPIs to help you make informed business decisions. Our best of breed default indicators can also save you valuable time and effort in monitoring safety metrics.

  • Get the Ultimate Guide to OSHA Recordkeeping

    OSHA’s Form 300A posting deadline is February 1! Are you prepared? To help answer your key recordkeeping questions, IndustrySafe put together this guide with critical compliance information.

  • The 4 Stages of an Incident Investigation

    So, your workplace has just experienced an incident resulting in the injury or illness of a worker. Now what? OSHA recommends that you conduct investigations of workplace incidents using a four-step system.

  • Why Is Near Miss Reporting Important?

    A near miss is an accident that's waiting to happen. Learn how to investigate these close calls and prevent more serious incidents from occurring in the future.

  • Industry Safe

Free Whitepaper

Stand Your Ground: A Guide to Slip Resistance in Industrial Safety Footwear

This white paper helps to clarify this complexity, so you can better navigate the standards and better ensure the safety of your employees.

Download Now →

OH&S Digital Edition

  • OHS Magazine Digital Edition - November December 2019

    November/December 2019

    Featuring:

    • GAS DETECTION
      Redefining Compliance for the Gas Detection Buyer
    • FALL PROTECTION
      Don't Trip Over the Basics
    • VISION PROTECTION
      What to Look for in Head-to-Toe PPE Solutions
    • PROTECTIVE APPAREL
      Effective PPE for Flammable Dust
    View This Issue