Employee wellness plans have been in the spotlight lately. This is because new wellness plan rules published in the Patient Protection and the Affordable Care Act (informally called Obamacare) are slated to take effect in January 2014. Under the new rules, employers can offer financial incentives up to 30 percent of their health care coverage costs to employees who complete participatory wellness plans. Financial incentives can range from gift cards to higher employer contributions for insurance premiums.
Many employers offer wellness plans now, but it is expected wellness plans will become more prevalent as a result of Obamacare. Providing wellness plans to employees is not without risks, however. Pennsylvania State University was recently in the news when it offered a new wellness plan that required the completion of a detailed questionnaire. That questionnaire told employees they would pay a surcharge unless they answered questions concerning marital problems, women’s pregnancy plans, and workplace stress. Penn State suspended the wellness plan in the face of protests and complaints that the questionnaire invaded employee privacy.
Now, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), the federal agency charged with enforcing discrimination laws, is receiving considerable pressure from members of Congress, the business community, and advocacy groups to draft regulations to help employers navigate the intersection of discrimination laws in creating wellness plans. Many employers are calling for guidance on how to offer wellness plans without running afoul of the Americans with Disabilities Act, Title VII, Age Discrimination in Employment Act, and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. Stay tuned to this space for future developments from the EEOC on this subject.