The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC)’s rules to set limits on the monetary value of incentives employers can offer to employees in wellness programs will still stand, says a federal judge. In the US District Court for the District of Columbia, Judge John Bates struck down the AARP’s lawsuit seeking to block the EEOC’s rules.
Provisions in the Affordable Care Act encourage businesses to implement wellness programs, and they are becoming increasingly common for their potential to save employers money in the form of fewer sick days, claims and reduced hospitalization for their workers. But some include mandatory or incentivized screens, putting them in conflict of the Americans with Disabilities Act, which prohibits employers from requiring their staff to hand over health information unless it is directly relevant to their job functions.
Even though most employee wellness programs are voluntary, the AARP filed a lawsuit in October saying the EEOC’s guidelines were a threat to privacy and undermined both the ADA and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. The suit also posited that the incentives work the other way for those who refuse to take part, essentially penalizing them for not participating. In January 2016, it was ruled that the new EEOC rules do not violate the ADA. But, while both laws have exceptions for voluntary wellness programs, the AARP says the incentives for participating in the programs equate to penalties for those who choose not to join a workplace wellness program.
But the judge denied the AARP’s request for injunction, and under the EEOC’s guidelines, employers can offer employees up to 30 percent off health plans for participating in programs that may include sharing genetic data, or taking health risk assessment tests.
According to Bloomberg News, Judge Bates ruled the AARP couldn’t show that any of its members would suffer “irreparable harm” if the EEOC rules went into effect January 1, 2017. Both agencies will now develop evidence for the court to explore the legal merits of the rules and AARP’s argument against them, but the court indicated that it was unlikely AARP will be successful in its argument. The AARP considered the ruling a “temporary setback.”
“We fully intend to continue pursuing the case to ensure that disclosure of personal and family medical information to wellness programs is truly voluntary, as provided under the civil rights laws,” Dara Smith, an attorney with the AARP Litigation Foundation, said in a Dec. 30 statement reported by Bloomberg.