If you're a small-business owner, chances are you've done your homework when it comes to employee and corporate-sponsored wellness programs. These initiatives have become increasingly popular in the years since President Obama's health care law was enacted, as they offer organizations a way to reduce health care spending while still meeting the legal requirements of "Obamacare."
However, the issue may not be as cut and dried as you might think. In particular, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has raised several issues with wellness programs and the ways in which they're implemented in various companies.
Taking aim at incentives
The EEOC recently published its own rule on wellness programs, and it diverges from the common execution in a few key ways. One significant point of contention is the use of incentives in voluntary wellness programs. The commission's concern is that these types of incentives and bonuses represent an inequity between employees who choose to participate and those who are unable to do so due to disability. As such, incentive-driven voluntary wellness programs would be impermissible under the Americans with Disabilities Act, which states that employees can't receive unequal treatment based on disability status.
The primary difference between the EEOC's proposed rule and that currently compliant with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act is that the EEOC wants to place limits on incentives that can be received through participatory wellness programs. Currently, only health-based initiatives have an incentive cap, while HIPAA places no such cap on voluntary programs.
Increased notice, greater complexity?
The other area primarily focused on by the EEOC is that of notice employers are required to provide to staff members regarding health information that is collected. The commission's proposed rule will require companies to provide information to each employee on what medical information was obtained, how it will be used and by whom, and any rules regarding potential disclosure of such information.
Some executives may be concerned about the increased complexity such measures could bring to the wellness program process. If the EEOC's proposal is accepted, the additional measures that would be required could edge out the cost-savings benefits typically associated with such initiatives. Moreover, the extra paperwork required could serve as a deterrent to employees who may be on the fence about participating in a voluntary wellness program.
As changes such as these develop, it may be beneficial for small-business owners to work closely with PEO companies to receive expert HR services without the financial strain associated with maintaining an in-house department.