EEOC Appeals Ruling on ADA Safe Harbor for Wellness Programs

March 04, 2016

The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has appealed a federal district court ruling that an Americans with Disabilities Act "safe harbor" provision for insurance plans shields incentives for employees to participate in employer wellness programs.  In the appeal, the EEOC is seeking to revive its claim in the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals that Flambeau Inc. violated the ADA by making employee participation in its wellness program a condition for receiving group health benefits.  The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin previously granted summary judgment to Flambeau, citing an ADA provision that gives employers leeway with regard to wellness programs that are part of bona fide health benefit plans.  In reaching its decision, the district court favorably cited an Eleventh Circuit Court decision, which held that a county's wellness program that charged nonparticipants $20 per pay period fit within the ADA's safe harbor for insurance plans.  The court decisions are important because, in the EEOC's proposed wellness program rule, the agency specifically noted its disagreements with the Eleventh Circuit's decision.