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Employee Wellness Programs: 5 Legal Reminders

By Brett Snider, Esq. | Last updated on

Measuring and ensuring employee wellness is a great way to ground a holistic approach to getting the most out of your workforce. But like any employer initiative, business owners should be careful that their good intentions don't become oppressive or illegal.

Honeywell International may have to confront this issue in court. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) recently sued Honeywell for penalizing employees who refuse to "undergo testing under its corporate wellness program," reports Reuters. This is the third company to be sued by the EEOC over its wellness program, despite encouragement for wellness programs in Obamacare.

Here are five reminders about keeping your wellness program healthy and legal:

1. Don't Require Participation.

According to Reuters, some Honeywell employees stood to lose $4,000 in contributions to health plans and surcharges if they (or their spouses) didn't sign up for the company's wellness plan. In the other two wellness-program suits the EEOC is pursuing, employees also faced disciplinary action, cancellation of medical insurance, or even termination for not participating. The lesson here: Holding employee benefits or employment hostage to coerce participation in a wellness program can get your company in trouble.

2. Consider On-Site Options.

Part of encouraging employee wellness is making the office a place that supports healthy lifestyles. That may mean offering free or low-cost immunizations at the office during flu season. It may also mean maintaining a fitness center or gym on-site where employees can keep active. It can also be as simple as providing health snack options in the break room.

3. Support Off-Site Activities.

Supporting off-site activities is a good way to encourage wellness and keep your potential liability low. You can encourage employees to go to their gym of choice by offering partial or full compensation of monthly dues. Business owners may also consider company "fun runs" and sports teams as a way to build morale and teamwork -- just remember the legal risks.

4. Consider Paid Sick Leave.

States like California are leading the way by requiring employers to offer paid sick time to their workers, so you might consider a similar policy. Encouraging employees to take time to recover may give you a boost in overall productivity.

Whatever new plans your business intends to implement, you'll want to run your ideas by your human resources and legal teams before you pull the trigger.

Don't have in-house counsel? Contact a business attorney for any more questions about your company's wellness program.

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