A Caution About Offering Employee Wellness Programs

We celebrated the birthday of one of our employees today, and I’m now 3 cookies and one cupcake heavier! Judging by all the sugary snacks we offered, I’ve concluded that we need to turn one of our offices into a gym.

On our blog, we’ve previously discussed the concern of health and the increasing problem of obesity in the workplace. One solution that’s been suggested is to offer an employee wellness program, which is a smart idea. If implemented properly, it can promote greater productivity, lower overall health costs, and reduce absenteeism. These results are expected to lead to greater employee engagement, which every company hopes to achieve.

But company wellness programs generally involve the collection of employees’ private medical information, which could expose you to legal trouble. It’s important to become aware of recent recommendations regarding privacy concerns surrounding this issue as well as the Americans With Disabilities Act, the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, and the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act. Lately, there’s been some confusion about what employers should and shouldn’t do regarding company wellness programs. Because of increased privacy concerns, lawmakers have called on the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission to give specific guidance on how to make wellness programs and collecting employee information compatible with these laws. To avoid legal danger, any medically related information employees choose to disclose must be offered voluntarily.

Also, to avoid discrimination charges, you’ll need to use caution when offering incentives and disincentives for employees who meet or don’t meet specific health standards. It’s important to make it clear to your employees that participating in the company’s wellness program is optional, and that if they choose not to participate, they won’t be penalized in any way.

We are passionate about helping companies with their hiring process, but we’re not here to give legal advice. As Beth K. Louie of Winston & Strawn LLP recommends, “Employers should consult with counsel before implementing or promoting wellness programs to ensure that the program addresses potential employee privacy concerns and the interaction with non-discrimination and privacy laws.” Doing your due diligence is a smart choice that will benefit both you and your employees.

Can patience and a meaningful connection find you the best employee? Read more…

By Marcianne Kuethen

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