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EEOC Weighs in on the Impact of the ADA and GINA On Employer-Sponsored Wellness Programs

Regulations Compliance Puzzle PiecesOn Monday, May 16 the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) issued two final regulations providing guidance on how employer-sponsored wellness programs work with the general antidiscrimination requirements of Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) and Title II of the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (“GINA”). These rules were published in the May 17th Federal Register.

This blog post is designed to provide background information on wellness programs and the antidiscrimination protections of the ADA and GINA, to highlight the final regulations and note two action items relating to smoking cessation programs and tiered health plan benefit or cost-sharing structures.

What is a Wellness Program?

The term “wellness program” generally refers to programs intended to promote health and disease prevention and activities offered to employees as part of an employer-sponsored group health plan. Wellness programs may also be offered separately from as a benefit of employment. Wellness programs may ask employees to answer a health risk assessment, to undergo biometric screenings for risk factors, or may provide educational health-related programs that may include nutrition classes, weight loss programs, smoking cessation programs, or even onsite exercise facilities.

Health-contingent wellness programs may require an employee to satisfy some standard related to a health factor in order to obtain an incentive. These health-contingent programs may be either activity-only or outcome-based, requiring, for example, that

Changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act May Affect Employee Benefits

200270748-001The United States Department of Labor recently issued a Final Rule updating the Fair Labor Standards Act (the “FLSA”) that includes an increase in the standard salary level and that will take effect December 1, 2016. Under the FLSA, certain employees may be exempted from overtime pay for working more than 40 hours per week if their job duties primarily involve executive, administrative, or professional duties and their salary is equal to or greater than the required salary levels.

Among other changes made by the Final Rule, the threshold salary levels have been dramatically increased and will continue to be automatically updated every three years in the future. Prior to the Final Rule, the standard salary level was $455/week or $23,660/year.  As of December 1, 2016, the standard salary level will be $913/week or $47,476/year.  Highly compensated employees are subject to a less stringent job duties test than lower compensated employees; the salary threshold for highly compensated employees was $100,000 and will increase to $134,004.

The Final Rule also revises prior FLSA regulations by permitting up to ten percent (10%) of the salary thresholds to be met with nondiscretionary bonuses and incentive compensation (including commissions).

Employers may face many other decisions in addition to whether to increase pay or limit overtime hours as a result of the Final Rule. Many employers offer certain benefits, like long-term disability or paid

New IRS Memo Confirms Tax Treatment of Wellness Programs & Incentives

Wellness Word CloudIn a recently released IRS Chief Counsel Memo, the IRS confirmed that wellness incentives are generally taxable. The memo also, indirectly, confirmed the tax treatment of wellness programs more generally.

As to the incentives, the IRS held that a cash payment to employees for participating in a wellness program is taxable to the employees. The memo did not deal with incentives paid to dependents, but we presume those would be taxable to the applicable employee as well.  The IRS did say that certain in-kind fringe benefits (like a tee shirt) might be so de minimis as to be exempt as fringe benefits.  Confirming the IRS’s long-standing position, however, cash does not qualify for this exception and is taxable.

This tax treatment also applies to premium reimbursements if the premiums were paid for on a pre-tax basis through a cafeteria plan. Therefore, if employees who participate in a wellness program receive a premium reimbursement of premiums that were originally paid on a pre-tax basis, those reimbursements would be taxable to the employee.  This is logical since, if an employee was simply allowed to pay less in premiums (as opposed to being reimbursed), the amounts not paid as premiums would increase his or her taxable compensation.  There is no reason to expect that a reimbursement would be treated any differently for tax purposes.  While the memo focused on a

Exceptional Plan Governance: Beat Back the Coming Litigation Onslaught

Gavel and ScalesIt was bound to happen. For several years, the plaintiffs’ bar has sued fiduciaries of large 401(k) plans asserting breach of their duties under ERISA by failing to exercise requisite prudence in permitting excessive administrative and investment fees.  It may be that the plaintiffs’ bar has come close to exhausting the low-hanging lineup of potential large plan defendants, and, if a recent case is any indication, the small and medium-sized plan fiduciaries are the next target.  See, Damberg v. LaMettry’s Collision Inc., et al. The allegations in this class action case parallel those that have been successful in the large plan fee dispute cases. Now that the lid is off, small and medium sized plan fiduciaries should be forewarned of the need to employ solid plan governance to avoid, or at least well defend, a suit aimed at them.

Exceptional plan governance means that, at a minimum, plan sponsors (and designated fiduciaries) should consider the following items to help demonstrate that they are primarily operating their plans to the benefit of participants and their beneficiaries and then to reduce liability exposure for themselves:

  • Understand and exercise procedural prudence – process, process, process
  • Identify plan fiduciaries and know their roles and duties
  • Seek and obtain fiduciary training for all plan fiduciaries
  • Adopt a proper plan committee charter or similar document
  • Appoint fiduciaries and retain service providers prudently

EEOC Takes Aim at Erroneous Application of ADA “Safe Harbor” to Wellness Programs

Challenges AheadIn its preamble to the final regulations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”) published May 17, 2016, which will be the topic of an upcoming blog post, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (“EEOC”) once again reiterated its disagreement with the district courts’ application of the bona fide plan safe harbor to the wellness programs in Seff v. Broward County and EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc. (discussed in a prior post).

Seff and Flambeau

In both Seff and Flambeau, plaintiffs brought suit arguing that the wellness programs violated the ADA’s prohibition on mandatory medical examinations and inquiries. Both courts disagreed and held that the wellness programs fell under the safe harbor provision, which in pertinent part state that an insurer or any entity that administers benefit plans is not prohibited from “establishing, sponsoring, observing or administering the terms of a bona fide benefit plan based on underwriting risks, classifying risks, or administering such risks that are based on or not inconsistent with state law.”

In Seff, Broward County offered a wellness program that included a biometric screening and health risk assessment questionnaire. This information was used by Broward County’s health insurer to identify employees who had certain diseases to offer them the opportunity to participate in disease management or coaching programs. To encourage participation, Broward Country imposed a $20 per pay-period surcharge on health

The DOL’s New FMLA Poster – Does It Impact Your FMLA Policy?

The DOL’s New FMLA Poster – Does It Impact Your FMLA Policy?

June 1, 2016

Authored by: Christy Phanthavong and Chris Rylands

By now, you’re likely aware (and if you’re not, you should be) that, in April, the U.S. Department of Labor (“DOL”)issued a new “Employee Rights Under The Family And Medical Leave Act” poster, to replace the prior poster on this subject.

The DOL has made clear that the old poster (revised Feb. 2013) is still sufficient – until further notice – to meet the posting requirement under the FMLA regulations. Thus, you’ve probably already given some thought as to whether and when to proceed with updating your posters.

As you consider this step, however, have you also considered whether the new poster impacts your policy?

The FMLA regulations provide that, if an FMLA-covered employer has any FMLA-eligible employees, and if the employer has a written policy on the subject of leave/benefits, then the employer must ensure that its policy contains the same information that is in the FMLA poster. (The notice requirements are discussed at pp. 12-13 of the helpful new publication from the DOL, “The Employer’s Guide to The Family and Medical Leave Act”.)

Accordingly, now is a good time to review your FMLA policy to ensure that it contains all of the information that is in the new poster. Of course, it is to your benefit to include additional provisions in your policy, such as a prohibition on the misuse of FMLA leave. But at a minimum, all of the information that is in the poster must be included.

Note that “all”

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