Keeping employees healthy

Wellness programs are a good idea, but make sure you're complying with applicable laws

As the economy tightens, employers increasingly are looking for ways to promote good health among employees as a means of combating increasing health care costs. Healthier employees generally use fewer resources and file fewer claims, thereby lowering the premiums paid for health care coverage. Workplace and employer-sponsored wellness programs have emerged as one tool employers are using to that end. But as such programs emerge, so, too, do questions about such programs' legality and limitations of mixing wellness and work.

The good news is that you, as an employer, generally have good grounds on which to proceed with such programs. The keys lie in ensuring participation is voluntary, potential disabilities are considered, and personal information and privacy are honored in the process. These safeguards are dictated largely by the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA).

Starting a program

Initially, you must determine what your wellness program will entail and how employees will be encouraged to participate. If employees are encouraged to participate regardless of their individual health status or factors, a wellness program will be less-regulated. Such programs may include, for example, providing incentives for employees to: