As employers consider implementing a vaccine mandate to encourage employees to get vaccinated against COVID-19, we have recently discussed the merits of imposing a “vaccine surcharge” on monthly health insurance premiums for those employees who remain unvaccinated. There were unanswered questions about specific legal issues, but now the Department of Labor (DOL), Health and Human
At Home COVID-19 Testing and the Path out of the Pandemic
Testing for COVID-19 certainly has evolved over the past 18 months or so. As supply and allocation continue to face challenges, guidance on serological/antibody versus viral testing, testing in the workplace, informed consent, among other things have emerged to help guide coronavirus testing in the workplace. President Biden’s Path out of the…
The End of a (Short) Era: ARPA COBRA Subsidies and the Remaining Action Item for Plan Sponsors
The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (“ARPA”) kept many practitioners busy this spring/summer, as may be evident by our discussions here, here, here, and here.
Under one of ARPA’s most impactful provisions, employees who were involuntarily terminated or had their hours reduced (and who met certain other criteria) became eligible…
Musings of Retirement Plan Fiduciaries on Cybersecurity: Episode One
By now, plan fiduciaries and their service providers likely have heard about the DOL’s cybersecurity guidance. The Department of Labor’s stepping into cybersecurity in this way – a posting of best practices on the agency’s website – has left plan fiduciaries with some questions. Here are a few:
- “When is this effective?”
- “Does this
Incentives: From Water Bottles to “Not so Substantial”
For years (and we do mean years), the EEOC has waffled about whether incentives were permissible in connection with a medical inquiry under a voluntary wellness program. Friday, the EEOC issued its most recent pronouncement on the topic, this time related to incentives for COVID-19 vaccinations.
The ADA prohibits employers from requiring medical examinations or…
About That Pension Check… A Miscalculation Case With Broader Implications
The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals recently addressed several issues of first impression in Bafford v. Northrop Grumman (9th Cir. April 15, 2021), a lawsuit involving retirees who received vastly overstated pension benefit estimates from the plan’s recordkeeper reminds employers of the importance of careful administration. The case highlights the need to ensure that…
DOL Issues Cybersecurity Best Practices for ERISA Covered Retirement Plans
Today, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) issued much anticipated cybersecurity guidance for employee retirement plans. This comes more than four and a half years after the ERISA Advisory Council, a 15-member body appointed by the Secretary of Labor to provide guidance on employee benefit plans, shared with the federal…
Model ARPA COBRA Notices Have Arrived!
On April 7, 2021, the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) issued eagerly anticipated guidance on administering COBRA subsidies under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA). The guidance includes Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and various Model Notices and election forms implementing the COBRA Premium Assistance provisions under ARPA, while also announcing the launch of…
COVID-19 Deadline Extensions—No More Time Outs but No Single Deadline Either!!
We recently provided an update on the looming end date for COBRA and other deadline extensions and the uncertainty that continues to add to the administrative burdens without more clarity from the DOL and IRS. Message received, apparently.
On behalf of the IRS, the DOL has now released Disaster Relief Notice 2021-01 that attempts to…
Wellness Programs and Water Bottles, the EEOC Proposes New Rules under the ADA and GINA
Since 1996, when Congress passed the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), employers have been struggling with whether and to what extent they could offer incentives to employees to participate in certain “wellness programs.” The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) position on these programs has been a significant driver of those struggles, primarily due to concerns about whether such programs are “voluntary.”
On January 7, the EEOC proposed a new approach that may provide employers some certainty, particularly as many employers are wondering about incentives to encourage employees to receive a COVID-19 vaccine. The agency proposed regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA) which, for those interested, provides a brief history of wellness programs, and EEOC’s evolving position concerning same.
A (Very) Brief History
In short, the EEOC stated its position on voluntariness in 2000, in its Enforcement Guidance on Disability-Related Inquiries and Medical Examinations of Employees Under the Americans with Disabilities Act: a wellness program is “voluntary” as long as an employer “neither requires participation nor penalizes employees who do not participate.” See Q/A 22.
During that time and moving forward, however, other federal agencies which regulated group health plans (Health and Human Services, Department of Labor, and Internal Revenue Service) provided a regulatory path for employers to incentivize employees to participate in certain wellness programs. A version of those rules were codified in the Affordable Care Act (referred to herein as the “ACA/HIPAA rules”), evidencing Congress’ intent to permit such incentives, albeit subject to other federal laws, such as ADA and GINA. The EEOC’s initial attempt to harmonize by regulation its position on wellness programs with the ACA/HIPAA rules failed when its regulations addressing incentives were judicially vacated. These new proposed regulations take a different approach.
The Proposed Regulations.
The EEOC proposed two sets of regulations – one under the ADA and one under GINA:
Under the ADA proposed rule, a wellness program is a program of health promotion or disease prevention that includes disability-related inquiries or medical examinations. Disability-related inquiries, such as health risk assessments and biometric screenings, generally include a series of questions “likely to elicit information about a disability,” while medical examinations are procedures or tests that seek information about an individual’s physical or mental impairments or health. Programs that do not include disability-related inquiries or medical examinations (e.g., rewarding employees for attending a smoking cessation class) would not be subject to the ADA proposed rule. The rule also would incorporate essentially the same subcategories of wellness programs as under the ACA/HIPAA rules – participatory and health contingent.
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