Wellness programs have helped many companies save money — and cost some a small fortune.
After nearly a decade of double-digit increases to healthcare costs, few finance execs believe there’s anything that can really relieve the pain.
Consumer-driven measures like wellness programs seem to be some of the only strategies that have helped even a little.
Whether your company already has any wellness initiatives in place, or is considering some, you should know: There are very real, very expensive exposures you don’t hear much about.
Here are four of the biggest:
Expensive Surprise 1: You could be breaking the law
There are a slew of laws and regulations that wellness programs are subject to.
Everyone from the Department of Labor to The Department of Health and Human Services and IRS have spelled out what’s OK and what’s not when it comes to wellness programs. And many states have their own rules on wellness. (Plus, HIPAA has extensive guidelines.)
No matter where you are in your wellness initiative, you’ll need to check against all of these to ensure there are no compliance missteps being made.
Expensive Surprise 2: You could get sued for discrimination
The whole reason you put a wellness plan in place is to minimize behaviors that are unhealthy for your workforce and expensive to your company.
But what happens when you target a specific illness or condition that tends to be more prevalent in a particular group of people?
Certain illnesses, like heart disease, are much more rampant in African Americans. So if you reward people for reducing their risk (or even penalize those that don’t), when they can’t really control it, you could be on the hook for ethnic- or gender-discrimination claims.
Expensive Surprise 3: You could trigger tax consequences
Benefits and HR won’t be the only finance functions involved in your organization’s wellness program — you may have to get your payroll department in on it, too.
One of the keys to any wellness program is to offer incentives for making healthier choices. But be prepared: Many of those “carrots” may be taxable to employees. So you’ll be adding additional time and labor to your program’s administration (or risk being out of compliance).
Expensive Surprise 4: You could get sued for firing someone
So you have employees fill out one of those health questionnaires to get a sense of the medical and lifestyle challenges facing your particular workforce.
Maria fills it out, revealing that she has some early signs of diabetes — an expensive problem for employers.
If Maria gets fired, or demoted, or even transferred to a department she’s not happy with, she can try to claim she met that fate because of her health condition.
And she can drag you all the way into court.
No guarantee she’ll win — but you can spend a lot of time and money before you find that out.
It’s tough to draw the line on this one. Still worth having? Probably — with some additional safeguards in place.
For one, you must make wellness participation voluntary. And you’ll have to remind all managers that no decisions based on people’s employment can ever be made based on health information.