Three people participating in a corporate wellness program

Corporate Wellness Program

So your company is ready to start a wellness program — congratulations! Workplace wellness initiatives can be a great addition to company culture and benefits offerings. These programs have been shown to increase productivity, decrease absenteeism and contribute to higher overall satisfaction among employees, contributing to a happy and thriving workforce. With a happy, productive, and high performing team, everybody wins!

Before you roll out this shiny new program to your employees, you’ll want to make sure it’s compliant. The very mention of employment law may make you feel deflated, but navigating this territory doesn’t have to take the wind out of your sails. Below are some simple tips to help you steer clear of employment law gray areas, making life easy for your HR department while keeping your program on the right side of the law.

checkboxTip #1 – Don’t make it mandatory
The first and best way to keep your company’s wellness program compliant is to make it 100% voluntary. Federal regulations state that employers can only mandatorily collect medical information when they believe a medical condition is preventing someone from doing their job, or poses a risk to others. By definition, a wellness program’s purpose isn’t to assess employees’ abilities to do their jobs, so it should be voluntary — especially if you plan to collect any medical information from those who participate. Which brings me to our next tip…

checkboxTip #2 – Don’t collect medical data from your employees
Just don’t do it. Design a wellness program that doesn’t require the use of employee medical data, including things like past or current health conditions and risk factors. Instead, start with something fun and engaging like a step-tracking challenge. This can be a great way to increase your employee engagement and doesn’t require any medical information to be effective. Walker Tracker makes it easy for your workforce to participate in this type of program, providing a platform for everyone to track their progress. These participatory programs are fun and popular with employees, not to mention far less likely to pose litigation risk than outcome-based programs (i.e. smoking cessation or weight loss) that use employee medical data.

checkboxTip #3 – Choose your incentives carefully
My best advice here to stay out of legal gray area is to avoid using monetary incentives, like reducing an employee’s monthly health insurance costs, as part of your program. While this is possible to do and may be an effective way to drum up participation, it requires a lot more work on HR’s end to make sure the program is compliant and fair for all involved. I’d recommend using other fun incentives to encourage engagement like gift cards, paid meals, and employee recognition. For more ideas on how to optimize these rewards, check out this blog post.

If you’ve already designed your program incentives to include something like reduced monthly premiums, you’ll want to do some research into ADA, GINA, HIPAA and PPACA to make sure you are meeting all of their requirements. Which brings me to our final tip…

checkboxTip #4 – Get to know ADA, GINA, HIPAA, and PPACA
ADA, GINA, HIPAA, and PPACA are the major players in wellness program compliance. They each provide specific federal regulations around health and wellness in the employer-employee relationship. Getting familiar with them will help you to feel more comfortable in knowing that your program fits their requirements.

  • ADA is the Americans with Disabilities Act, and sets limits around when an employer can collect medical data from employees and job applicants. As I mentioned in tip #1, medical information can only be collected mandatorily under very specific circumstances. Employers have the right to request medical information only if they have reason to believe that an employee’s medical condition poses a threat to themselves or others, or may prevent them from doing their job effectively.
  • GINA is the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act. GINA also restricts employers collection of employee health information, protecting employees and job applicants from discrimination based on their genetic information.
  • HIPAA is the Healthcare Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. This act protects people from being denied health coverage based on any health factor. These health factors include physical and mental illnesses, medical history, genetic information, and disabilities.
  • PPACA is the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. PPACA sets out stipulations for wellness programs in the areas of preventative services, wellness program incentives, and government funding of employer wellness program incentives.

Following these tips can help you and your organization avoid tricky legal territory and have you well on your way to rolling out a wellness program that adds value to your employees’ lives and your company’s culture.

Want some backup in ensuring you’re compliant? Check out the many resources available at SHRM.org, and use this handy wellness compliance checker as you build out your program.

Zoe Graman
Zoe Graman is a freelance People Operations Consultant providing HR and business operations advising to startups and small businesses without an HR department of their own.  

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