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EEOC addresses genetic queries for wellness programs

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The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has issued a proposed rule change allowing employers to reward employees and their spouses for volunteering certain types of genetic information through participation in workplace wellness programs.

The proposed rule change, added to the Federal Register on Thursday, would amend Title I of the U.S. Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act to permit the use of financial rewards or penalties worth up to 30% of the total cost of group-based health plans for employees and covered spouses who participate in wellness programs that collect information about their current or past health status.

Financial incentives linked to requests for employees’ and dependents’ genetic information currently are prohibited under GINA.

Under the proposed rule change, incentives offered to married employees and their spouses would be capped at 30% of the total cost of family coverage, while unmarried employees' incentives would be capped at 30% of the total cost of self-only coverage.

The rule change would not apply to protected genetic information regarding employees' children, due to the higher possibility of discrimination by employers that are given access to such information, the EEOC said in a statement issued on Thursday.

“Our goal in developing this proposed rule is to provide clarity for employees and employers,” EEOC Chair Jenny R. Yang said in the agency's statement. “We spent considerable time working with our partners at the U.S. departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, and Treasury to construct a rule that protects workers and their families while encouraging wellness programs that benefit employers and employees alike.”

The EEOC said it plans to formally publish the proposed rule change on Friday, along with a fact sheet and FAQ outlining its potential effects on small businesses. The agency said it will accept public comments on the proposed rule change for 60 days.