Court gives green light to final workplace wellness rule

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Employers can offer workers and their spouses incentives to join workplace wellness programs following a federal court's ruling last week.

The future of the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission's rule, finalized in May, was jeopardized after a motion to block it was filed by AARP. The group's lawsuit said the rule, which allows employers to offer incentives up to 30% of individual employees' self-only health coverage, was “an abuse of discretion,” since employees who chose not to join the programs could face up to “double or even triple” health insurance costs.

The suit echoed similar concerns from other groups who questioned if the programs encouraged by the rule could truly be considered voluntary with the level of incentives proposed.

On Thursday the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that AARP failed to show that the rule could cause “irreparable harm” to employees.

“Enjoining the rules now will cause uncertainty for employers as to the lawfulness of their wellness programs — and uncertainty for employees as to the terms and cost of their health insurance,” Judge John D. Bates wrote in the court's opinion. “Such a disruption across the entire national employment arena is not warranted based on the showing AARP has made here to date.”

The rule went into effect Jan. 1, although its legal merits remain under court scrutiny, Bloomberg BNA reported.