Posts Tagged ‘wellness program’

Wellness Plan Protected by ADA’s Safe Harbor, Federal Court Rules in Rejecting EEOC Challenge

Employers that limit participation in their group health plan to employees’ participation in the company-sponsored wellness program scored a victory in federal district court on Dec. 31.

According to the court, ruling on a lawsuit filed by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission against Wisconsin-based Flambeau Inc., the Americans With Disabilities Act’s “safe harbor” provision allows an employer to limit participation in its group health plan to employees who participate in a health risk assessment and biometric screenings

Initially, the company provided a $600 credit to employees enrolled in the health plan who participated in the HRA and biometric screening. Later it eliminated the credit and conditioned health plan enrollment on that participation. The company used aggregate data from the program to establish premium contributions, among other things.

The EEOC protested, arguing that the wellness program violated the ADA because it required employees to complete medical examinations in order to enroll in its medical plan. It based this argument on Section 122112(d)(4) of the ADA which prohibits an employer from requiring a medical examination unless the examination is shown to be job-related and consistent with business necessity.

The court found that this was within the ADA safe-harbor for insurance benefit plans, which protects employers from liability for acts that would otherwise violate the ADA if they were in the course of establishing or administering a bona fide benefit plan that are bas don underwriting, clarifying or administering risks.

Here’s some background on EEOC v. Flambeau Inc., from a previous blog post.



EEOC Says Wellness Program Violates ADA

An employer can have a program that rewards employees for attaining positive health goals, but it must remain voluntary and not penalize workers who decline to participate, the EEOC said yesterday in announcing its first Americans With Disabilities Act lawsuit over such programs.

According to the EEOC, Orion Energy Systems, based in Manitowoc, Wisconsin, violated the ADA by requiring an employee to submit to medical examinations and questions that were not job-related or consistent with business necessity as part of its wellness program. And when the employee refused to participate in the program, the company allegedly transferred responsibility for paying the entire health premium to her.

A majority of employers now offer some sort of wellness program — 94 percent of employers with over 200 workers, and 63 percent of smaller ones, according to Karen Pollitz of the Kaiser Family Foundation. So employers with these programs need to be especially mindful of not crossing the line into an ADA violation.

“Employers certainly may have voluntary wellness programs — there’s no dispute about that — and many see such programs as a positive development,” said John Hendrickson, regional attorney for the EEOC Chicago district.  “But they have to actually be voluntary.  They can’t compel participation by imposing enormous penalties such as shifting 100 percent of the premium cost for health benefits onto the back of the employee or by just firing the employee who chooses not to participate.  Having to choose between responding to medical exams and inquiries — which are not job-related — in a wellness program, on the one hand, or being fired, on the other hand, is no choice at all.”

Orion seems bent on arousing the commission’s ire. Earlier this year it was sued by the EEOC for allegedly refusing to install a door opener for a wheel-chair bound employee.

Read more about the case.

Harkin Bill Includes Tax Credits for Wellness Programs

Employers could take a tax credit per employee for offering a wellness program or gym membership under legislation introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa).

Harkin, who recently announced he won’t seek re-election to another term in 2014, last week introduced the Healthy Lifestyles and Prevention America Act (S. 39). The proposed tax credit would pay for half of an employer’s costs for a wellness program, up to $200 per employee for companies with up to 200 employees and $100 per employee for larger companies.

To qualify for the credit, the program would have to be certified by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, and contain three of these four components: health awareness, behavioral change, supportive environment, and employee engagement.

Here’s the text of the bill.


Broward County Wellness Program Lawful Under ADA, 11th Circuit Holds

The Americans With Disabilities Act allows employers to have wellness programs so long as employees are not forced to take medical examinations or to answer questions about possible disabilities. That can be a fine line to straddle.

Broward County, Florida, learned today that it had straddled the line successfully. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit ruled that its wellness program, which charged nonparticipants $20 a pay period, did not violate the ADA but rather came within the law’s “safe harbor” for a “bona fide benefit plan.”

The wellness program, sponsored by Coventry Healthcare, Broward’s group health insurer, included voluntary screenings for glucose and cholesterol and filing out an online health care assessment. Coventry used the results to identify county employees who had one of five disease states, including hypertension, diabetes, and kidney disease. Based on the results, Coventry offered these employees a disease management coaching program, including waivers of co-pays on certain medications.

A former county employee and others objected to the program, alleging it was coercive under the ADA. But the appeals court, affirming a lower court, said the former employees failed to raise a triable issue that the wellness progrm was not a term of Broward’s insurance program and thus ineligible for the ADA safe harbor provision.

Read the decision here.



“Instant Recess” Gets Employees Moving and in Shape

Want to get  your deskbound employees moving and more healthy? Then you should consider starting what workplace wellness experts call “instant recess.”

Anyone who has a desk job–and that’s lot of us–can relate to the tendency to sit for too long, allowing muscles to atrophy, back pain to build up, and, if you’re staring into a computer, eye strain.

With instant recess, employees get the benefit of a modest workout without the hassle of having to go to a gym.

Here are five steps to starting a regular fitness break at work, acccording to Washington Post columnist Vicky Hallett:

  1. Get the boss on board– participating, not just giving permission for others to participate;
  2. Survey co-workers on what time they want their exercise breaks;
  3. Recruit a team
  4. Start small; but
  5. Think BIG– how can you keep the program exciting and continous

And a shout out to Motley Fool, based in Alexandria, Va., which has a personal trainer, a.k.a. The Wellness Fool, who organizes and runs exercise programs and is restocking the company kitchen with healthier fare.

Here’s some free advice on building a wellness program.

Federal Court Okays Wellness Program That Imposed Surcharge on Nonparticipants

How an employer structures its wellness program can make the difference between complying or not complying with federal benefit laws.

Under Equal Employment Opportunity Commission guidelines, participation in such programs is supposed to be voluntary.

But is it really “voluntary” if the employer imposes a surcharge on employees who don’t participate?

Interestingly, a recent ruling by the U.S. District Court in Florida avoided answering that qyestion, but ruled instead that a so-called “participation only” wellness program was lawful under the safe harbor for bona fide benefit plans under the Americans With Disabilities Act.

You can read the decision here, and click here for an ERISA benefit lawyer’s take on the decision.