The Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) could present an obstacle to Employer Sponsored Wellness Program initiatives as well as running counter to PPACA and national wellness trends. But a recent court ruling provides guidance on how a mandatory wellness program can be introduced within ADA rules.
The ADA generally limits the circumstances in which an employer may mandate health exams or questionnaires which could potentially be viewed as discriminatory against the disabled. However, in August, the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that a penalty in Broward County’s wellness program for failing to complete a health risk assessment was a bona fide plan safe harbor provision that did not violate ADA because it met the Bona Fide plan exception.
While the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which administers ADA, has yet to take a formal position on the question, EEOC has safe harbors that exempt from its rules program initiatives —like mandated health exams—if they are part of a bona fide plan that is not designed to evade the intent of ADA.
Broward County’s wellness program provided for a surcharge if the employee didn’t complete biometric screening and health risk assessment. Participation in the wellness program was not a condition for coverage under the group health plan. The district court found the Broward County wellness program was a bona fide provision of the group health plans and therefore not subject to the ADA’s rules against such provisions.
To avoid ADA restrictions, employers will want to take steps to make their wellness program clearly part of a bona fide plan. That is done by explaining, in the SPD, how the wellness provisions work in the benefit plan. Since wellness is strongly encouraged under PPACA, look for legislative guidance or additional circuit court rulings to further clarify this issue.