Over the past fifteen years, wellness programs have generated more than their fair share of litigation and regulatory scrutiny – primarily over the issue of whether they comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act. A related compliance issue that has attracted relatively little attention from courts and regulators is whether, under the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), employees must be paid for time spent participating in wellness-related activities. This question was addressed in an Opinion Letter (FLSA2018-20) issued by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division on August 28, 2018.
Opinion Letter 2018-20 specifically addresses whether an employer must pay employees for time spent in the following activities:
- biometric screenings (blood pressure, cholesterol levels, nicotine usage) both during and outside of their regular work hours;
- wellness activities such as nutrition classes, employer-facilitated gym classes, telephonic health coaching, participation in Weight Watchers and Fitbit challenges;
- attendance at benefits fairs to learn about employer-provided benefits, financial planning and college attendance opportunities.
The Opinion Letter concludes that employees need not be compensated for participating in the above activities if: a) their participation is purely voluntary; b) they perform no job-related duties while participating; and c) the activities predominantly benefit the employee and not the employer. In concluding that the activities were predominantly for the employees’ benefit, the DOL noted that participating employees may enjoy lower health insurance deductibles while also learning how to make “more informed decisions” about non-job related health issues. Moreover, since employees were relieved of all job duties while participating, they were “off duty” as that term is defined in DOL regulations.
This Opinion Letter is helpful assurance for employers who are considering implementation of wellness programs. If employee participation is strictly voluntary and no work is performed during the course of participating, the time will likely be deemed non-compensable under the FLSA. However, as many employers have learned, it can be difficult to generate strong employee participation in wellness programs. Although paying employees for their participation may not be required by the FLSA, some employers choose to do so as an incentive for participation.
If you have any questions regarding wellness programs or the Fair Labor Standards Act, please contact any member of our Labor and Employment Practice Group.