4 Things You Can’t Do In Your Corporate Wellness Program
When you got allowance as a kid, your parents had certain expectations. You had to help out around the house. You had to demonstrate personal responsibility. It wasn’t about earning a wage, it was about being rewarded for growing as a person and benefiting the family along the way.
Flash forward to today. You have a staff of unhealthy people and you’re desperate to do something about it. They smoke, they overeat, they have health conditions they don’t even know about yet, and for many it’s because they’re not taking responsibility for their health.
Sometimes you wish you could just take away their allowance.
No, you don’t want to fire anybody. You just want to motivate “the kids” to get off the couch and be productive. How can you encourage your employees to take more responsibility for their own health?
Your intentions are good, but be careful. There are federal regulations that govern the implementation of wellness programs, including some new rules taking effect on January 1, 2017 that outline a few things you just can’t do … even though you kinda want to.
SORRY, BUT YOU CAN’T …
- Design a program specifically to transfer healthcare costs to employees.
“If you don’t get off the couch and mow the lawn, the cost of hiring someone to do it comes out of your allowance.”
The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) says your wellness program “must not be designed mainly to shift costs onto employees based on their health.” You can collect health information through screening to provide employees with results and advice on how they can improve their health. You just can’t use results “against” them, no matter how well you think it might work.
In other words, you can’t make the kids pay for hiring a lawn mowing professional if they weren’t already.
- Offer high financial incentives for health performance.
“If you clean the bathroom every day this week we’ll double your allowance.”
This seems like a great way to get your employees moving toward health! The problem is that too great a reward for good health status is considered discrimination against persons with poor health. The answer is to limit financial reward. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) specified in 2013 that “the maximum reward (for wellness program participation) is 30% of the total cost of self-only group health plan coverage.”
A bump in allowance is okay, but not so much it discourages the other kids.
- Penalize workers for not agreeing to medical inquiries.
“You show me your room is clean by the end of the day or you’re grounded.”
Proof of results makes sense when it comes to work performance, so why not make rewards contingent on health progress? Here’s why not: as of January 1, 2017 it will be considered to be discriminatory under ADA rules to deny a benefit to an employee for not allowing you to collect their health information. Participation in a health risks assessment (HRA) or biometric screening has to be completely voluntary, and non-participation can’t count against them.
Better to offer ice cream for effort than punishment for a dirty room.
- View any individual worker’s medical information.
“If I see a single piece of dirty laundry in your closet tomorrow morning we’re going to have a chat about your privileges.”
As the program director – not the staff collecting medical information – you probably don’t have a legitimate need to view identifiable medical information. Under federal privacy standards you should only be looking at aggregate health data “that do not disclose or are not reasonably likely to disclose the identity of any employee.” Be sure to discuss the handling of medical information with your corporate attorney before beginning any wellness program that involves biometric data collection.
There are natural consequences for the kids not doing the laundry: their clothes are going to stink. Just stay out of the closet.
BUT YOU CERTAINLY CAN …
… boost morale by offering your employees education, health screenings, immunizations, personal lab testing and the like on a purely voluntary basis. You know you’re not trying to manipulate anyone, you just have to avoid any aspects of your wellness program that even appear coercive.
While we do not provide legal advice for wellness programming, Cover-Tek is here to provide the tools you need to create a health-conscious culture in your company. Learn more, right here.