Wellness Programs in 2019

Though wellness may not be the first thing on many employers’ minds as Spring rolls around, the Department of Labor (DOL) is upping their audits of employer sponsored wellness programs, making it a hot topic for the year ahead. Additionally, the EEOC published a final rule late last month addressing the myriad of sometimes conflicting requirements surrounding wellness (view a summary of the history of the departments varying rules here).

In short, the EEOC confirmed a court’s order that vacated the Americans with Disabilities (ADA) rule on incentive limits applicable to wellness rewards for health contingent programs. What does this mean? Any wellness program that offers incentives for participation only - regardless of the outcome - is likely still fine. Rewards given only to employees who achieve specific results in a wellness program (health contingent), or to employees that complete a health risk assessment, are to be viewed with caution.

Additionally, the HIPAA incentive rules are still in effect (limiting rewards given to employees for participation in health programs to 30% of the cost of single tier, lowest plan coverage), and the EEOC notice on data collection is still required (link to model notice here).

The EEOC has indicated it is working on final rules regarding incentives under the ADA to replace those it recently withdrew, but we do not know when to expect these guidelines. Existing wellness programs should be reviewed carefully in  2019 to ensure they offer a reasonable alternative for employees that cannot participate, and employers who still collect health data from wellness screenings should confirm that they are providing a HIPAA disclosure notice.