EEOC Needs You to Review that Wellness Program | DCR Workforce Blog

EEOC Needs You to Review that Wellness Program

eeocNew Year’s Day is in 28 days. On that day, many of us will resolve to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Unfortunately, this will probably not be the first time we have made that resolution – or the last!

Life is full of choices! Why does it seem so hard to make those right choices which are conducive to better health? If people need to be gently nudged into making better choices, what role should the workplace – where they spend a major portion of their waking hours – play in encouraging those choices? Companies should be motivated to join in this effort. Among other things, employers would benefit from reduced absenteeism and greater operational efficiencies as the overall health of employees improves.

Blueprint for the Program:

Research into wellness programs by the Kaiser Family Foundation indicates that a majority of employers now offer some sort of wellness program — 94 percent of employers with over 200 workers, and 63 percent of smaller companies.

Wellness programs at work vary. For example, employers may provide a fully equipped gym, a pool, or other work-out facilities. The company may engage a yoga/tai chi instructor, general physician or wellness counselor to visit at fixed intervals to train and/or provide consultation to the employees. The company may offer free onsite flu vaccinations or other onsite services. To achieve optimum results out of such a program, employers need to carefully consider each program element:

  • Fit the program to the needs of the workforce. Consider the age, genders, and interests of the employees. The program should also address specific healthcare issues associated with the nature of the work being performed.
  • Consider how to make it sustainable over the long term by studying industry best practices. Ensure that the corporate budget can support a multi-year program.
  • Keep the goals of the program simple and easy to understand. Communicate with the employees through constant and continuing dissemination of health-related information using the office intranet, wellness site and other channels.
  • Verify if a similar program was floated earlier but failed or petered out after a while. Analyzing the reasons for such failure will provide one with pointers on what needs to be avoided in the current effort.
  • Run a pilot project before scaling up for the whole office.
  • Popularize the program among the employees from the outset – starting at the recruitment, pre-hire stage – through orientation and enrollment. Having informal advocates of the program among the employees is a good way to advertise the benefits of the program.
  • Proactively seek feedback through the use of surveys, focus groups, chat forums or blogs. Incorporate inputs to improve the program on an ongoing basis.
  • As with every workplace initiative, senior management needs to be behind the program.
  • Align the program to other existing programs at work and to the overall business/corporate goals.
  • Benchmark results against various parameters like attendance, sick leaves, retention, turnover and performance and productivity.
  • Determine if the work environment reinforces the company’s commitment to wellness. For example, if the company offers free donuts every Friday morning, consider a healthier alternative.

Typical Benefits of Wellness Programs

Wellness programs at the workplace have many benefits, which include reduced absenteeism, lowered healthcare costs and better employer brand image. In addition to these expected benefits, research indicates that the concern shown by the employer for the employees’ well-being is repaid by loyalty. Employers experienced a reduction in the frequency of unscheduled leaves whose justifications were subject to question. Employees also reported increased energy levels and greater enthusiasm for their work.

Teamwork and motivation also increased in companies where healthy group activities (after work sports teams, weekend ski trips, and other outdoor activities) were sponsored.

Workers cited a higher success rate when embarking upon a regular exercise program or modifying habits like smoking, eating and drinking. Undertaking such activities while at work makes dropping out difficult due to peer support and ultimately results in safeguarding the employee’s health and welfare.

Avoid the EEOC’s Ire:

So, it is a win-win for everyone? Not so fast!

Make sure that the wellness program offered by your company does not fall foul of the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission’s (EEOC) standards. Going by the lawsuits filed by the EEOC against employers, we have compiled a list of actions which fail to pass muster with the Commission:

  • Making worker participation in wellness programs mandatory and Threaten financial penalties and surcharges or withdrawal of incentives for any employee who fails to participate.
  • Substitute a wellness program for employer contributions to healthcare benefits.
  • Take disciplinary action for a worker’s failure to undergo medical screening, a health risk assessment or biometric testing.
  • Institute involuntary health screenings for employees and collect their health metrics, such as blood pressure, cholesterol, glucose level, and body mass index.

The EEOC contends that such forced screening would not be justified by business necessity. They would violate the employee’s rights to privacy under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Genetic Information Non-Discrimination Act (GINA).

Wellness programs should be regularly reviewed to determine their effectiveness. Fine-tuning will result in continuous benefits to companies and employees. Implementation of a wellness program would be a great resolution for your company in 2015.

The content on this blog is for informational purposes only and cannot be construed as specific legal advice or as a substitute for competent legal advice. They reflect the opinions of DCR Workforce and may not reflect the opinions of any individual attorney. Do contact an attorney for advice specific to your issue or problem.
Lalita is a people/project manager with extensive experience in operations, HCM and training and development across industries like banking, education, business consulting, BPO and information technology. She believes in a dynamic approach to life and learning as change is the only constant.