Employers and benefit professionals are urging Congress to pass legislation that would allow employers to offer financial incentives for wellness program participation, despite recent opposition from the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Also see: Mediation program alternative to costly EEOC litigation

The Senate and House of Representatives earlier this month introduced identical bills (S. 620 and H.R. 1189) that would reaffirm laws already in existence that allow for employee wellness programs tied to a financial reward. The EEOC has filed several lawsuits accusing employers of violating the Americans with Disabilities Act and/or the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act by failing to provide incentives to employees who would not complete a wellness program assessment or screening.

“Building upon existing law that ensures that wellness programs do not discriminate…the Affordable Care Act specifically allows employers to use limited financial incentives to encourage employee engagement in workplace wellness plans,” says R. Bruce Josten, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s executive vice president of government affairs.

To date, EEOC has not issued any guidance to employers on the matter, creating “tremendous uncertainty” among employers, he says.

Also see:EEOC comes under fire for lack of clarity on wellness plans

“This bill would help to ease this uncertainty by specifically verifying that wellness programs that conform to the requirements set forth in the ACA are also lawful under ADA and GINA,” Josten says in a letter of support to the bills’ sponsors Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. John Kline (R-MN).

Tamara Simon, managing director of the Knowledge Resource Center and Career Practice at Buck Consultants, a Xerox Company, agrees existing federal guidance from the EEOC is not clear.

Simon testified on behalf of the American Benefits Council Tuesday, telling the Workforce Protections Subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives Education and the Workforce Committee, “The Council believes that H.R. 1189 strikes the right balance between providing certainty to employers and ensuring an appropriate role for the EEOC to protect employees from discrimination.”

“Public policy, at the legislative and regulatory level, should continue to support bipartisan efforts to expand workplace wellness programs,” Simon added.

Also see: Why employers need ADA-compliant policies

The Council previously expressed its support for H.R. 1189 in a March 6 letter delivered to all House offices.

The legislation would provide employees up to 180 days to request and complete an alternative wellness program if it is medically inadvisable or unreasonably difficult for an employee to participate in the original employee wellness program. It also clarifies that an employee’s spouse may participate in the employee’s workplace wellness program.

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