Beware of wellness program incentives

by | Feb 17, 2015 | Compliance, Our Blog

There’s good news and there’s bad news regarding wellness programs. The good news: Workers do seem to have a keen interest in wellness. The bad: What they want could put employers in the feds’ crosshairs.

These are some of the key findings from a recent study by HealthMine.

The study found that three-quarters of employees would engage more fully in a wellness plan that included incentive levels and rewards for achieving goals such as maintaining ideal weight, sticking to a drug regimen that addresses chronic diseases and not smoking.

Specifically, employees said that:

  • Colleagues who are in a healthy weight range should be rewarded with a discount on their health insurance (67%)
  • Colleagues who smoke tobacco should pay more for their health care (63%), and
  • Colleagues who adhere to medication for chronic disease should be rewarded for it (52%).

The study also found that 71% of employees would like more health-management guidance from their employers.

The problem is, the EEOC may view these “goal-based incentives” as discriminating against particular groups of workers. This has made a lot of employers reluctant to incorporate incentives in their wellness programs.

Employers do have a good reason to be skeptical of relying too heavily on these results-based wellness incentives. The EEOC has filed a number of high-profile lawsuits against employers because of their wellness programs. These lawsuits have drawn widespread criticism from both employers and benefit industry insiders because, even though the EEOC won’t spell out what types of wellness initiatives will get firms in trouble, it has no problem coming after firms when it sees something it doesn’t like.

So until the EEOC issues some guidelines, firms are likely to keep playing it safe and only offer basic wellness initiatives that offer rewards for simply participating.