March Madness presents one of those occasions where your employees’ diets and exercise may fall by the wayside, and by the wayside, we mean potentially off a cliff. And when this happens, your workforce is increasing not just their weight and risk of disease, but it may also increase your cost to employ them. The productivity time you’re losing when they stop working to watch the games is nothing compared to the loss of productivity and increased health care costs due to poor health.
On January 25, the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals issued it much-anticipated decision in EEOC v. Flambeau, Inc. This case involved the regulation of employer-sponsored wellness plans and programs. Since 2006, the rules surrounding wellness programs had been modestly well settled—for tax and benefits purposes. But little was known about the impact of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). At issue in Flambeau is which of two ADA provisions—the voluntary employee health program exception or the safe harbor for “bona fide benefit plans”—also apply to wellness plans. The lower court, the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Wisconsin, ruled against the EEOC, applying the more flexible bona fide benefit plan exception. The EEOC appealed.
The Seventh Circuit’s decision on appeal is a model of judicial restraint. (This is the doctrine that holds that cases ought to be decided on the narrowest grounds possible.) Flambeau “won” on appeal only in the narrow sense that it avoided liability. The Court did not reach the statutory or regulatory issues before it. Rather, it disposed of the case on procedural grounds.
The EEOC recently published guidance for mental health providers describing their role in an employee or applicant’s request for a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act (“ADA”). While the guidance is primarily aimed at providing information to mental health providers, it also presents the EEOC’s pronouncements on some fundamental precepts on the ADA and the reasonable accommodation process, which should interest employers and practitioners alike.
The recent Republican election victories appear to ensure that the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) days are numbered. But with nearly a fifth of the U.S. economy, and the health care coverage for some tens of millions of U.S. citizens, at stake, the law will not simply be repealed. Something will be enacted to take its place. And some popular features of the law (e.g., protection for those with pre-existing conditions) are likely to survive.
Our previous posts have attempted to outline the alternatives and to handicap their odds. Last week we looked that the Trump/Pence transition plan, “Healthcare Reform to Make America Great Again.” This week we turn our attention to particulars of the program offered by House Speaker Paul Ryan entitled A Better Way. In the next two weeks, we will look at legislative proposals offered by Representative Tom Price (R-Georgia), who is President-elect Trump’s nominee to head the Department of Health and Human Services, and by Senator Orrin Hatch (R-Utah). In future posts, we will speculate on the process by which the various policy prescriptions might become law—including whether the repeal of the ACA will be done quickly (we expect it will), whether there will be a transition period (we expect that the answer is “yes”), and if so how long (anywhere from two to four years).
Unlike the Trump/Pence plan, which consists of a series of high-level bullet points, the Ryan plan is a fairly detailed policy proposal. Hence, while not in actual legislative form, it provides a good sense of some of the likely features of the ACA’s replacement.
The growing prevalence of the Zika virus in the United States has already presented a number of hurdles for employers striving to create a safe and healthy workplace environment for their employees. These concerns are more immediate than ever. The recent and continuing outbreak in Florida and the emergence of state-to-state transmission within the U.S. reinforce the need for employers to stay informed of best practices for minimizing workplace health risks without overstepping critical legal boundaries between employer and employee.
The obligation to accommodate a disabled employee is an ongoing one; a doctor’s note may not be a prerequisite to engage in the interactive process – those are two important lessons that employers should take away from a recent decision by a California Federal district court.
My colleagues Alden Bianchi and Alta Ray wrote a Bloomberg BNA Tax Management Compensation Planning Journal article entitled, The “The Emerging Contours of The Rules Concerning Wellness Programs Under (Conflicting) Federal Tax, Benefits and Employment Laws,” in which they outline the development of workplace wellness programs and the regulation of these programs. The article examines the impact of key federal laws, such as the ACA, HIPAA, GINA and the ADA, on workplace wellness programs and analyzes recent EEOC rules and emerging trends relating to third-party wellness programs and vendors.
The employer community was sent into a frenzy with the Department of Labor’s release on May 18, 2016 of its final white-collar overtime regulations. Just two days before however, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission also released its own final regulations regarding employer wellness programs.
Last month, a California state appellate court issued a decision that, as the dissent characterized, went “where no one has gone before.” In Castro-Ramirez v. Dependable Highway Express, Inc., the court held that California’s Fair Employment and Housing Act (FEHA) – California’s anti-discrimination law – requires an employer to provide a reasonable accommodation to a nondisabled employee who associates with a disabled person. This troubling and broad interpretation of the law, which effectively would import a caregiver accommodation requirement into the law, has certainly captured the attention of employers even outside this jurisdiction.
As a recent federal appellate decision confirmed, the Americans with Disabilities Act does not require employers to always accommodate a disabled employee. Instead, it is the employee’s burden to first show that he or she can perform the essential functions of the job with said accommodation. Alternatively, if the employee cannot perform the essential functions of the job, he or she may seek, as a reasonable accommodation, a reassignment to a vacant position as long as the employee is qualified for that position. In both cases, the employer is relieved of the accommodation requirement if it can show an undue hardship would result. It was these essential function and vacancy issues that were the focus of the First Circuit’s opinion in Lang v. Wal-Mart Stores.