As businesses struggle to hire and retain top talent, creating excellent employee benefits packages is becoming essential. Beyond health insurance and retirement plans, more businesses are offering flexible benefits that include corporate wellness programs.
But offering health and wellness benefits isn’t as straightforward as starting a walking club or offering discounts for local yoga classes. Employers must understand the legal risks and considerations involved anytime they become actively involved in employees’ personal interests.
We’ll explore how corporate wellness programs benefit businesses and employees, and examine the laws and legal considerations your business must understand when implementing such programs.
A corporate wellness program is a company-led initiative designed to improve or maintain employee health. The precise nature of individual wellness programs can vary considerably, but they may integrate various elements:
Well-designed corporate wellness programs have significant business advantages, including money savings, improved morale and better employee retention.
Successful corporate wellness programs can help companies save on health insurance and medical care costs. When companies support employees in their personal health journeys, the result is often reduced risk factors for illness and injury and generally improved health.
“Major risk factors for chronic illness include inactivity, smoking and heavy alcohol usage. The most expensive conditions for health insurance and medical care are cancer and heart disease,” explained Daniel Foley Carter, director at SEO-Audits.io. “You can improve your employees’ general health and lower healthcare costs if your employee wellness program takes these variables into account. Long term, it will also have a favorable effect on the financial health of your business.”
The company will benefit from less time lost to employee illness. With higher attendance comes improved overall business performance and productivity. Additionally, wellness programs can boost employee morale.
“Employees who participate in wellness programs feel valued and respected,” said Sep Niakan, managing broker at Blackbook Properties. “When workers feel respected and appreciated by their employers, they are happy. Employee enthusiasm at work frequently increases when wellness programs are offered.”
Niakan also said that healthy eating and regular exercise are likely to increase an employee’s productivity because they can focus better and require less time off due to illness or injury.
For many companies, corporate wellness programs add value to the total employee benefits package, providing incentives to current and future workers, increasing employee retention, and enabling the company to remain competitive within the labor market.
Paul Somerville, editor-in-chief and hardware program manager at Electric Scooter Guide, agreed that wellness programs significantly impact employee retention.
“Employee loyalty can be increased by an employer [that] offers a wellness program and encourages staff to work toward reaching their individual objectives,” Somerville said. “Offering a wellness program to your staff demonstrates your care for their health and happiness. [Employees] are more inclined to stay rather than look for work elsewhere when you view [them] as valuable assets of your business.”
There are many positives to creating a corporate wellness program, particularly for larger companies and those with a strong ethos of investing in their employees. However, corporate wellness programs also come with risks. Understanding and mitigating these risks is crucial for limiting your company’s liability.
When a company offers a wellness program, it displays a direct personal interest in its employees’ health and well-being, which can have implications for employee equality and privacy. The more a company’s wellness program is formally structured and involved, the more it risks running afoul of federal laws.
The core federal laws that pertain to corporate wellness programs include the following:
It’s also crucial for employers to consider informed consent and confidentiality.
Companies are strongly advised to incorporate a comprehensive, legally compliant waiver into their corporate wellness programs to reduce the risk of lawsuits by employees who may become injured or otherwise adversely impacted by wellness program participation.
“It is important to make sure that employees give their informed consent,” said Shaun Martin, owner and CEO of Denver Real Estate Solutions. “This means that they should be aware of what the program entails and what their rights are. Furthermore, they should be given the opportunity to opt out of the program if they do not wish to participate.”
Confidentiality is crucial in any wellness program. “Employees should be assured that their personal health information will be kept confidential and will not be used for any purpose other than the wellness program,” Martin said.
Confidentiality is a significant part of other federal laws. Still, employers should clearly prioritize confidentiality in the wellness program guidelines and instructions instead of assuming employees have a full understanding of federal discrimination laws.
If you need help with implementing a legally compliant corporate wellness program, require guidance or are facing litigation due to your corporate wellness program, you may want to speak with an employment lawyer.
Justin Walker contributed to the writing and reporting in this article.