The Legalities of Wellness
Corporate wellness programs are beneficial to both employers and employees. Wellness is an investment that is known to reap benefits beyond the corporate bottom line. Healthy employees are happier, more productive and miss fewer days from work. Employers that offer wellness programs add value to their benefits packages, which aids in recruitment and retention efforts.
Like many other programs and benefits, wellness programs need to adhere to a myriad of federal laws designed to prevent discrimination and protect employees' privacy. So which laws should employers consider when developing or expanding a corporate wellness program?
HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act] covers the collection of personal and identifying information about employees, including their health. It also details what information can be collected, how the information can be used, and how the information should be stored and handled.
ERISA [Employee Retirement Income Security Act] prohibits employers from discriminating against employees because of their health status. There is a narrow exception that allows employers to offer discounts on wellness services based on the health status of any given employee.
GINA [Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act] mandates that employers must not require or request employees to provide genetic information about themselves. This includes any family history or any possible hereditary health conditions.
ADA [Americans with Disabilities Act] makes it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of health or health status. There are specific exceptions when there is voluntary participation in a wellness program. The ADA allows, within limits, employers to incentivize employee participation. Employers, however, cannot mandate participation or penalize any employee who refuses to participate.
ACA [Affordable Care Act] restricts the allowable cost of corporate wellness program incentives to a cap of 30 percent of the cost of health coverage.
Other Legalities: Employers should utilize a legally compliant waiver to reduce any risk of lawsuits brought by employees who may be injured or adversely impacted when participating in the health program.
All employers should consult with an attorney to assist with compliance issues when initiating a corporate wellness plan.