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EEOC Vacates ADA and GINA Wellness Incentive Rules

By: Erin M. Hussey, Esq.

On the verge of a potential government shutdown, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) was quick to issue final rules December 19th on the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (“GINA”). Issuing final rules at the end of the year is not a new trend, but the unique situation is that the final rules are vacating current provisions on wellness program incentives. With an effective date of January 1, 2019, we are left with less guidance than we had on December 18th.

By way of background, in 2016 the American Association of Retired Persons (“AARP”) sued the EEOC claiming that the EEOC’s wellness incentive rules, for wellness programs that implicate the ADA and GINA, were coercive and not truly voluntary. A wellness program would implicate the ADA if medical examinations or disability-related inquiries were involved (i.e., biometric screenings), and a wellness program would implicate GINA if there were inquiries about genetic information. Before recent events, the EEOC’s ADA and GINA rules capped the wellness program incentive at 30%.

In a 2017 opinion, the judge determined that the EEOC had never defined the term voluntary thus the court found that the EEOC "failed to adequately explain" the 30% maximum and how a plan can still be considered voluntary with that incentive. The EEOC was directed to re-write their workplace wellness rules related to incentives for an effective date of January 1, 2019 or the old rules would be vacated. Obviously the EEOC did not re-write the ADA and GINA incentive-related rules as they have now been vacated effective January 1, 2019. However, the EEOC had indicated at their Fall 2018 Unified Agenda of Federal Regulatory and Deregulatory Actions, that they intend to issue new regulations in June 2019.

In order to ensure compliance until new rules are issued, the quick solutions are to remove medical testing, questions about genetics, and lower the amount of the incentive (though it is unclear what amount will truly be considered voluntary). While frustrating to say the least, this limbo situation for employers and plans is more of the same uncertainty that we have been dealing with for the past eight years. Employers that choose not to make changes should be aware of the compliance risks they may face due to the lack of rules.

*Please note: the above-mentioned EEOC wellness rules are separate from the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (“HIPAA”) and the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”) wellness rules and the above ruling has no effect on these rules.