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Friday 23 June 2017
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Refocused: Corporate Wellness Programs, EEOC Compliance

Tom Drennan is the director of EAP Account Management for UPMC WorkPartners, which provides health and productivity solutions to high-performing companies throughout the United States.

There’s a good reason why more employers are offering wellness programs than ever before. The advantages are well documented — a successful wellness program can increase productivity, lower health-care costs and reduce absenteeism among workforce.

In addition, a wellness program can boost employee satisfaction and loyalty, which helps with recruitment and retention.

Employer-sponsored wellness programs often involve participating in health risk assessments and biometric screenings to determine risk factors for chronic conditions.

Some employers and health insurance plans offer incentives to employees who participate in wellness programs or achieve certain health outcomes.

However, there’s been some concern that using incentives to boost participation may violate federal law, relating to Title 1 of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act.

In May, the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued final rules to amend the regulations and offer guidance on how to implement them. Here are some key questions that employers are asking in order to offer wellness programs that are compliant with federal law:

1) How exactly must wellness programs be designed, under this final guidance?

Wellness programs must be designed to promote health and prevent disease. Employers can’t collect information simply to have it or to calculate future health-related costs.

Wellness programs that collect health information — typically through health risk questionnaires and medical tests and screenings — must use this information to create a program that addresses at least one of the employee’s identified conditions.

If the wellness program collects information but does not provide advice that helps participants improve their health, it does not meet the requirements of a well-designed program.

Employers must also tell employees in writing how their medical information will be obtained, used and disclosed. The EEOC has created sample notices for employers to review.

2) Can employers make employees participate in a wellness program? What kinds of incentives are allowable?

Participation in wellness programs must be voluntary. However, the EEOC states that in order for a program to be voluntary:

• Employers can’t make employees participate in a wellness program.
• They can’t penalize employees for not participating.
• They can’t make health benefits conditional upon participating.

The incentives for not participating in a wellness program can’t exceed 30 percent of self-only coverage.

3) How did the EEOC address privacy concerns?

Employers generally can’t have access to an individual employee’s health information.

The existing confidentiality requirements that are part of the ADA rules haven’t changed. But two new ones have been added:

• An employer may not require an employee to agree to disclose medical information or waive any confidentiality protections as a condition for participating in a wellness program.
• Any data gathered by the wellness program and then shared with employers must generally be in aggregate form that isn’t likely to disclose the identity of individual employees, except as necessary to administer a health plan.

Tracking how wellness programs use personal information can be tricky for human resources professionals. There are many advantages to working with a company that is experienced in keeping your company compliant.

For more information, contact Tom Drennan at 412/454-8811 or drennantp@upmc.edu.