Employers Increasingly Turning To Wellness Programs

Date: January 25, 2016

EEOC Defeat Seen As Strengthening Program Options For Employers

The New York Times reported that employers are increasingly telling employees “to undergo health screenings and enroll in wellness programs, as a way to curb insurance costs,” and a recent ruling by a federal judge in Wisconsin “is likely to further embolden companies to prod workers to join these programs, despite growing concerns over employee privacy and health management.” The Times says the ruling “is the latest setback” for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), which in recent years “has pursued legal action against programs it says violated” federal anti-discrimination laws.

Baker & McKenzie attorney Georgia A. Jolink wrote in Lexology that, “while wellness programs are gaining in popularity, employers still lack clear guidance on how best to implement such programs.” Weighing the recent lawsuit and similar cases, she argued that the EEOC will continue “to aggressively litigate what it views as ‘discriminatory’ corporate wellness programs,” adding, “You can expect more cases like these until Congress or the courts better define what constitutes a ‘lawful’ wellness program.” Jolink further wrote that, while it may legal to charge higher premiums for employees who do not participate in wellness programs, “you should not deny coverage outright. In addition, do not take adverse action or retaliate against an employee based on their participation.” She advises that companies focus on incentives, like a credit toward premiums, rather than penalties to encourage employee participation in these programs.

What This Means For Small Business

Employee wellness programs offer a unique way for businesses to both lower healthcare costs and engage their employees. NFIB provided an in-depth look into the financial benefits of these programs, pointing out that wellness programs can translate directly into an improved bottom line as healthier employees have lower absenteeism. The challenge for small business, in view of recent litigation and regulation, is to offer a program that will keep their employees healthy without generating undue risk. The EEOC defeat is a step in the right direction toward helping small businesses lower costs and assist their employees in leading healthy lives.

Additional Reading

NFIB provides advice on how to maximize potential in employee wellness programs.

Note: this article is intended to keep small business owners up on the latest news. It does not necessarily represent the policy stances of NFIB.

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