New Proposed Rules Impact Spouse Participation in Wellness Programs

Last November, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) issued a new set of proposed regulations under the Genetic Information Nondisclosure Act (GINA). The proposed regulations are a follow up to the proposed rules announced in spring 2015 regarding wellness programs under the American Disabilities Act (ADA).

Here is what you need to know:

  • The new proposed rules provide additional information to employers who reward employees and their spouses’ participation in company-sponsored wellness programs.
  • The GINA rules consider each employee’s spouse’s medical information as the “family” medical history even though the spouse has no genetic link to the employee. In the past, GINA generally frowned upon wellness programs rewarding employees for providing genetic information. As a result, the EEOC informally discouraged employers from encouraging spouses to provide this information through avenues such as health questionnaires or medical screenings.
  • The new EEOC rules explicitly state that it is okay for employers to reward an employee whose spouse participated in a health risk assessment or medical screening. The kicker is that the incentives that are offered to the spouse, along with the incentives offered to the employee, must not exceed 30% of the total cost of health coverage.
  • There are other conditions that require the employer to give appropriate notice to the spouse and receive voluntary authorization from him or her before they can participate in any screenings or assessments. 
  • The genetic information gathered as part of a health screening or risk assessment can only be collected and used as part of a corporate wellness program intended to prevent disease and promote health. 
  • Lastly, the new proposed rules under GINA specifically reinforce that the employer must reasonably accommodate disabled employees who may have a condition that would prevent them from participating in the wellness program and earning the consequent incentive.