Employee Wellness

Employers use wellness programs to supplement their employee benefit programs in an effort to prevent illness and lower health care costs by motivating employees to adopt and maintain healthful behaviors. These programs are popular with employers looking to reduce health care costs, and studies have shown that implementing and maintaining an employee wellness program can also result in increased employee productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher morale and increased employee retention.

Below are some key tools and resources to help an employer implement and manage an employee wellness program.

Types of Programs

There are many types of wellness programs an employer can choose, based on budget, employee demographics, location and health goals. An employer can pick and choose what to offer from a variety of options, such as:

  • Employee Assistance Programs;
  • Financial wellness benefits, such as retirement planning or financial education;
  • Nutrition classes and information;
  • Substance abuse counseling;
  • Vaccinations;
  • Exercise classes, reduced or free gym memberships or on-site exercise equipment;
  • Smoking cessation programs; or
  • General safety and health tips for work and home.

A higher upfront investment in a wellness program can result in higher cost savings over time, increased productivity, reduced absenteeism, higher employee morale and increased employee retention.

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) updated the wellness rules under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), permitting the use of incentive-based programs and clearing the way for employers to expand upon existing wellness programs.

Even though such programs are permitted under HIPAA and the ACA, an employer needs to consider how its program interacts with federal antidiscrimination laws such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA). The ADA's reasonable accommodation requirements and GINA's discrimination provisions may limit the design of incentive-based wellness programs.

  • Learn about the interplay of wellness programs and the ADA, HIPAA and GINA.

Employee Communication

Effective workplace communication is an essential element to the success of a wellness program. It ensures all employees are aware of the program and all of its benefits. An employer should use multiple communication methods, such as:

  • Sending or emailing notices directly to employees;
  • Putting posters or brochures in common areas, such as lobbies, break rooms and hallways; and
  • Holding company- or department-wide meetings.

Communication should come from upper management, who should encourage employee participation.

However, participation in any wellness program offered by an employer should be fully voluntary. Therefore, employee communications should include any government-required notices, as well as a release of liability waiver.